Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

It's been quite a day.  I've worked with the radio on all day, and switched over to video coverage when President Obama began to speak today at the Lincoln Memorial.  I am glad that Lauren Du Graf and Kim Burgess were in the crowd today -- I feel well-represented. 

I think that some of the speakers, John Lewis in particular, gave listeners a better idea of what those days were like in this country in the early 1960s.  Before we were allowed to drive clothing and food or register voters in Mississippi, we were trained by SNCC workers and Quakers on how to respond to violence:  without violence.  We learned about Mahatma Ghandi's ability to organize large numbers of people to peacefully demonstrate for principles.  From David Brooks, yesterday, in a column in the New York Times:  "But the early 1960s civil rights tactics demanded relentless self-control, the ability to step into fear without ever striking out, to remain calm and deliberate in extreme circumstances, to exercise emotional discipline."

John Lewis is in the back row, third from left.  Dr. King is sitting second from right in front row.  In those days, as Lewis notes, "people dressed up to go out to march."
If you went to the South in those days and were an activist,  there was no guarantee you would ever come back.  No cell phones.  No smartphones to photograph and instantly post injustices you observed.  No guarantee anywhere that the police upheld the law, especially when Northerners were "interfering" in the way they did things down there.

I met Congressman John Lewis first in 1962, maybe early 1963, but definitely before he became head of SNCC and before the March on Washington took place.  He brought the Freedom Singers with him to the University of Iowa and described horrors I had never imagined and that (at that time) had not been widely written about.  It is because of him primarily that I became a civil rights activist.  He had a fire inside him that has never gone out, which you heard today.  I am going to try to meet with him when I'm in DC next month, to remind him that he lit a fire inside me as well.

The headline on this  blog is from a comment Dr. King often made, based on a longer statement in the 1850s by Theodore Parker.  Here is the full Parker statement:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."

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