A really interesting and thought-provoking piece at the Black, White and Gray blog: Remembering Prophetic Faith in American Politics — a look at how secular interests ignore the Christian impact on social movements.
Having taught the sociology of race, class, and gender at a faith-based university, I am continually confronted with the reality that education and awareness about racial inequality is remarkably weak at the secondary school level. I do not blame teachers who are already straddled with a million other problem areas confronting students such as basic writing, discipline, and sustained focus. What saddens me instead is that while students might “sort of” remember who Martin Luther King Jr. was, he is not remembered as “the Reverend” Martin Luther King, a pastor turned social movement leader. [...] Due to an absence of education about contemporary religiously-motivated social movements in public schooling and private Christian schooling, the average student will not identify the Civil Rights Movement with Christianity. Thus most students will interpret institutionalized programs that were borne out of the struggle to address systemic racial inequity as a secular movement. For the devout Christians, I’d expect that they will more often reject such programs on the grounds of preventing secular encroachment in the private domain where religious expression is protected under law. Those who participate in the Black Church however will stand in support of these programs knowing full well that its roots lie in the very application of Christian theology.
The piece closes with an interesting question:
What do you remember learning about the Civil Rights Movement and in what context did you learn it?
I was very young — I was ten when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (and later Robert Kennedy) was murdered — and didn’t understand everything I was seeing in those flickering images, but I remember Bobby Kennedy finishing a speech and then inviting people, “let’s sing the song” and watching people solemnly sing “we shall overcome, we shall overcome…someday…” and, before that, I can remember my parents indignation as they watched news reports of people being sprayed with water. I can’t say I had a grasp of what was really happening, though. In one of my old scrapbooks there is a picture of my father and an African American man (back then the word “negro” was in use — a word I’d always though of as elegant and exotic) and they are both wearing suits — both looking very handsome and serious; they are looking at something out of camera range, and holding glasses of what looks to be whiskey, straight up.
And I remember my parents expressing grief and fury when King was killed; I recall watching Coretta Scott King lead the funeral cortege, wearing a black veil over her face, as Jackie Kennedy had in 1963. I have a very vague recollection of Robert Kennedy speaking of Dr. King, but I couldn’t tell you what he said. The message I received, though, was “injustice. This is injustice.”
And of course, a few months later, we watched Ethel Kennedy, also in black veil, at Robert Kennedy’s funeral.
I remember parts of JFK’s funeral, more of Rev. King’s funeral, but it is RFK’s funeral that is clearest in my mind. I was taking piano lessons at the convent near our school and I remember the sisters barging in and out of the lesson, discussing his grave condition with wringing hands. And I recall his casket being taken from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
Mostly, what I remember is wondering if it was just “Catholics and negroes” who got murdered when they got into politics, so I was glad my family had no aspirations, that I could perceive, beyond going to work and watching baseball on the weekends.
What about you — what do you remember? What did you learn, and how did you learn it?