March to Selma attempted 41 years ago today, March 7, 1965

It was 41 years ago today, March 7, 1965, when marchers were beaten at the Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama as they attempted to march to Montgomery, State Capital of Alabama, to petition the Government of Alabama for the right of blacks to vote.

Under the order of Governor George Wallace marchers were beatern, bludgeoned, and refused passage.

I visited Montgomery Alabama two years ago and drove the route from Montgomery to Selma and crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge myself. I was very moved to remember what these Americans did to nonviolently push other Americans to give them their basic democratic rights to assemble, to speech, to vote.

George W. Bush's idea about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq is a joke when you consider that it hasn't been that long that we have enjoyed it ourselves in the U.S.of A.

Here is part of what is written on the History Central web site

At a large memorial service for Lee, a march from Selma to Montgomery was announced that would take place on March 7th. The marchers set off for Montgomery, but as they crossed the Pettus Bridge, they were attacked by troopers. As the New York Times reported the next day: "The first 10 or 20 Negroes were swept to the ground, screaming, arms and legs flying, and packs and bags went skittering across the grassy divider strip and onto the pavement on both sides."

Nearly 100 of the marchers were hurt that day in Selma. The next day, civil rights workers and clergy from across the nation rushed to Selma. On Tuesday, many marched to the Pettus Bridge, where the marchers stopped for prayer and then, obeying a federal court injunction, returned to Selma. On March 21st, after the court injunction had been lifted and the Alabama national guard had been federalized to provide protection, the march began again. The march proceed to Birmingham without significant incident.

Link: Selma.


Malcolm X assassinated 41 years ago today

Malcolm X was killed on February 21, 1965, 41 years ago today. Here is a bit of what is written about Malcolm X on the Africa Within web site.

At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage and shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-year-old was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Fifteen hundred people attended Malcolm's funeral in Harlem at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ on February 27, 1965. After the ceremony, friends took the shovels from the gravediggers and buried Malcolm themselves. Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters.

Malcolm's assassins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966. The three men were all members of the Nation of Islam.

The legacy of Malcolm X has moved through generations as the subject of numerous documentaries, books and movies. A tremendous resurgence of interest occurred in 1992 when director Spike Lee released the acclaimed Malcolm X movie. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume Design.

Malcolm X is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Link: Biography of Malcolm X.


Today, 02/11/06, is the 16th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison

16 years ago today, February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa after 27 years. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here is part of what he said upon his release:

'I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'

Nelson Mandela is a saint among us.

Link: Nelson Mandela's Address to Rally in Cape Town on his Release from Prison, 11 February 1990.


Do women have the right to birth control?

Today it may be hard to believe, but perhaps it is not that hard to believe that on February 11, 1911, Emma Goldman was arrested for lecturing in New York City on birth control.

Goldman first became convinced that birth control was essential to women's sexual and economic freedom when she worked as a nurse and midwife among poor immigrant workers on the Lower East Side in the 1890s. She tested her ideas about reproductive rights while attending a Parisian "Neo-Malthusian" congress in 1900 and then began to take direct action, smuggling contraceptive devices into the United States on her return. By 1915, she was working with Sanger in a mass movement for birth control, lecturing frequently on "the right of the child not to be born" and demanding that women's bodies be freed from the coercion of government.

Today, there still are forces at large in the United States that believe that women's bodies are to be coerced by government into breeding and giving birth. Over the counter morning after pill has been denied by the Bush administration and there is fear that with Samuel Alito on the supreme court, Roe vs Wade, which gives women the right to abortion could be overturned or seriously curtailed.

We should not forget the courageous pioneers of women's fertility rights like Emma Goldman. I wonder how many contemporary American women appreciate the sacrifices that their forebearers have made which make the exercise of their fertility rights possible today?

Link: Emma Goldman Online Exhibition: Birth Control Pioneer.


Autherine Lucy threatened with death 50 years ago today for enrolling at University of Alabama

The courage of the saints among us continue to inspire me and develop within me a grateful heart. It was 50 years ago today, on February 6, 1956 when I was 10 years old that Autherine Lucy was suspended from the University of Alabama after 3 days of riots during which the whites threatened to kill her. She had been enrolled on February 3 by court order. The King Chronologies from the King Center put it this way:

Autherine Lucy became the first black person to attend the University of Alabama on February 3rd. She was suspended on this day after three days of riots following her court-ordered enrollment. It is unclear why the University did not elect to suspend the rioters.

The United States has a shameful and very disturbing past which is something we should keep in mind when we insist on bringing our brand of freedom and democracy to other parts of the world at the points of our guns and missles.

For more information about Autherine Lucy and her life click on the link below.

Link: King Chronologies.


Saints Among Us, Sgt. Kevin Benderman

There are still true heroes among us. One of them is Sgt. Kevin Benderman who decided that war is wrong and refused to participate. This is the first of a series of articles on this blog about the story of Kevin Benderman, a true American, and a conscientious citizen of the world.

Who is Kevin Benderman?

Sgt. Kevin Benderman (40) is a U.S. Army mechanic with ten years of service under his belt, including a role in the assault on Baghdad. While there, his outfit was ordered to open fire on children who were throwing rocks at unit personnel. Troubled by this and other similar incidents, and facing a second tour of duty in Iraq, Benderman applied for conscientious objector status in December 2004. The U.S. Army has charged him with desertion. He has been called a coward by his commanding officer, and his chaplain has told him that he is ashamed of him. Born in Alabama, Sgt. Benderman currently lives in Hinesville, Georgia, with his wife, Monica, and stepson Ryan.

Kevin applied for conscientious objector status. Here is what he has to say.

"I have learned from firsthand experience that war is the destroyer of everything that is good in the world; it turns our young into soulless killers, and we tell them that they are heroes when they master the "art" of killing. That is a very deranged mindset in my opinion. It destroys the environment, life, and the resources that could be used to create more life by advancing our endeavors.

War should be left behind us; we should evolve to a higher mindset even if it means going against what most people tell us in this country, such as that we can never stop fighting with other people in the world. I have made the decision to not participate in war any longer, and some people in this country cannot comprehend that concept, but to me it is simple. I have chosen not to take part in war, and it was easy to come to that decision.

I cannot tell anyone else how to live his or her life, but I have determined how I want to live mine - by not participating in war any longer, as I feel that it is stupid and against everything that is good about our world."

Link: t r u t h o u t - Sgt. Kevin Benderman | A Matter of Conscience.


Dorothy Day - A Saint Among Us

Dorothy_day_1 Dorothy Day was the American version of Mother Teresa. She has not achieved the same international recognition because, when nominated for the Nobel peace prize, she was considered "too radical".

Dorothy was born in Brooklyn, NY on November 8, 1897. She died on November 29, 1980 in New York City. In the 19teens she was a pacifist and a suffragette. She had a love affair which resulted in an abortion, a short term marriage that ended in divorce, and then in the 20s she worked as a journalist writing for communist newspapers. She also lived in a common-law relationship and had a daughter out of wedlock. In the later 20s she converted to Catholicism and devoted her life to the poor opening storefront soup kitchens and founding, with Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker Movement.

Sarah Horsely says in part:

"Throughout her life, Day unabashedly and consistently spoke out, condemning fascism, nuclear weapons, and the Vietnam War, and supporting WWII draft resistance, an undertakers' strike against the New York Catholic archdiocese, and the United Farm Workers' unionization of migrant workers. Day's balance of radical social beliefs and conservative doctrinal views enabled her to avoid being censured by the Church, and thus to raise awareness among Catholics and all people of struggles for social justice."

Archbishop Cardinal John O'Connor petitioned the Vatican to open Dorothy's case for canonization in the Catholic Church in the late 90s, and his petition was granted.

In October, 2002, Dorothy was inducted in the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY.

In spite of her own failings and personal difficulties, Dorothy devoted her life to social justice and became a social activist at great cost to herself. Her life has become a source of inspiration and courage to many who would fight for the poor and oppressed to improve life in our society for all.

Dorothy Day is my pick for this week's Saints Among Us.

For more information click here to go to the Catholic Worker Web Site.


Martin Luther King, Jr., martyr 1968

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia a segregated city at the time where African Americans were treated as second class citizens. If he were alive today he would be 76.

Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39 only 4 years after the Civil Rights Legislation was passed in 1964 and just as the national discord over the Viet Nam war was heating up to deadly proportions. Bobby Kennedy had announced his candidacy for president only three weeks earlier on March 16, 1968, and he too would be killed 3 months later on June 5, 1968.

These men believed in similar values, worked to make significant change in America so that it would be more tolerant, more just, more free, and they both died martyrs deaths at the hands of assassins.

While from different races, they both were men from prominent families, well educated, who could have had prosperous, safe careers, and instead they both challenged the conventional wisdom and politics of the day to bring about social change that would make for a better country for all. They both paid with their blood. Their families paid with generations of sorrow and deprivation of their loved one, and our nation continues to pay with shame and disgrace knowing that we supported discriminatory and unjust systems that it took great men to sacrifice their lives for us to finally change.

Both these men were my contemporaries. I voted for Robert Kennedy to be a Senator from my state, New York, and I would have voted for him as President instead of Richard Nixon had he not been killed and I been deprived of that opportunity.

This past summer, in July of 2004, I drove from my home in Batavia, New York to Montgomery, Alabama to walk in the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored and preached, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Here is my photo of the church from across the street.

Dexter_ave_king_memorial_baptist_church_1 

I visited the parsonage which was bombed when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. I cried when I talked with two women in the parsonage, me, a fat, middle aged white guy, and they, two African American women, and one said to me as I apologized for my tears, "Oh, honey, don't worry, alot of people get choked up when they come here."

Here's my photo of the parsonage as it looks today.

King_parsonage_front

Both men were saints among us, and tomorrow we publicly acknowledge our debt to Martin Luther King, Jr.


Who is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner?

Wangari_maathai You undoubtedly recognize the names of dictators and terrorists like Sadaam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Yasser Arrafat, but do you know the name of the person who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize? I'll bet you don't, and why do you suppose that is?

It probably is because of the old journalistic expression "If it bleeds, it leads". We teach our children a history of war, torture, bloodshed, and terrorism. Violence and fear sells newspapers. And lots of readers make newspapers attractive to advertisers who are trying to sell you stuff. The good people who build up the human community and the planet are overlooked, barely recognized, and acknowledged. Good news, without the blood and guts, doesn't seem to sell so well. But people of good will can change that. We can improve our world by telling our children and grandchildren and each other stories about people of good faith, of good works, of good hearts.

Anita Roddick has written, "We seek hope and meaning now because we have come to live in a world in which perverse profusion of economic values has superseded every other human value, including peace and compassion."

The year's 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner is a Kenyan women, Dr. Wangari Maathai, who won the prize for planting trees in a ravaged land. There is some sort of cosmic irony when I think of the deforestation efforts of the United States Military when they burned vegetation and people with napalm in Viet Nam and now Dr. Maathai gets the peace prize for restoring on the planet what super powers have destroyed.

Dr. Maathai said in part when she accepted the prize:

"Some people have asked what the relationship is between peace and environment, and to them I say that many wars are fought over resources, which are becoming increasingly scarce across the earth. If we did a better job of managing our resources sustainably, conflicts over them would be reduced. So, protecting the global environment is directly related to securing peace.

Many people have asked me through the years of struggle how I have kept going, how I have continued even when my ideas and my work were challenged or even ignored. Those of us who understand the complex concept of the environment have the burden to act. We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.

I would like to call on young people, in particular, to take inspiration from this prize. Despite all the constraints that they face, there is hope in the future in serving the common good. What my experiences have taught me is that service to others has its own special rewards.

When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children. One of the first things I did yesterday when I got the extraordinary news about this prize was to plant a Nandi flame tree. It was at the foot of Mt. Kenya, which has been a source of inspiration to me and to generations before me.

So, on this wonderful occasion, I call on all Kenyans and those around the world to celebrate by planting a tree wherever you are. Once again, I want to thank members of the press, members of the Green Belt Movement, friends who have been with me all along, and my three children, Waweru, Wanjira and Muta."

I think that Dr. Wangari Maathai may be one of those saints among us which I will be featuring weekly on this blog in 2005. (My pilot nominees last week were Peace Pilgrim and Philip Berrigan. You can access the articles on them by clicking on "saints among us" under "Categories" in the right hand side bar.) I ask that you share Dr. Maathai's story with others so that the inspiration to make this world a little better through "making peace" instead of war will be a little stronger.

Link: Professor Wangari Maathai - Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2004.


Philip Berrigan

Phil_berrigan Philip Berrigan was Dan's younger brother born in 1923 and he died on December 6, 2002 from cancer.

Phil was a Josephite Priest until he was excommunciated when he married a former nun, Elizabeth McAlister. They had three children.

Phil said "Dan and I went to prison because we believe that Christianity and revolution are synonymous."

I first became aware of Father Berrigan when he and three of his friends walked into the selective service office in Baltimore in October of 1967 and poured a vial of his blood on the selective service records to protest the draft of young American men into the Army to serve in the immoral war in Viet Nam. Following that protest, Phil enlisted the help of his brother, Daniel, a Jesuit priest, into another protest with 7 other people where they went into the selective service office in Catonsville, Maryland removed selective service records, took them into the parking lot and burned them with a Napalm like substance. Both Berrigans were sentenced to over 3 years in a Federal prison for this action.

Phil and Daniel have twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize, the fist time in 1973 when they lost to Henry Kissinger of all people, and again in 1998 by Irish laureate, Mairead Maguire, but they didn't win.

"In 2001 at age 78, Philip Berrigan - who had been characterized as a 'terrorist' by half a dozen federal prosecutors and J. Edgar Hoover himself in the previous 30 - odd years- marked a decade spent behind bars for his acts of civil disobedience." Brave Hearts and Rebel Spirits p. 24

In 1980, Phil and his wife, Elizabeth founded Plowshares, an organization opposing nuclear weapons and the U.S. Military-Industrial complex.

Unlike the religious toadies of today and yesterday who supported the government's policy of military aggression, Phil Berrigan stood strong for gospel values of nonviolence and love of one's neighbor. He put his life on the line and suffered immensely for his prophetic voice.

Jesus said, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:11

As the United States perpetrates another immoral war in Iraq, I wish for the voice of conscience and witness that was Phil Berrigan. Will there be any other prophets to take his place?

May he rest in peace, a peace he richly deserves and did not achieve here on earth.

The mental health of nations like the mental health of individuals involves the practice of virtue and right values. Killing other human beings to resolve conflict and to obtain resources is not healthy for the victims or the perpetrators. Building up arms to coerce others to our will is not in keeping with healthy human relations, and it takes individuals with conscience, wisdom, courage, and determination to promote more mentally healthy policies.

Phil Berrigan saw 58,000 Americans killed in Viet Nam as well as millions of Asians, and for what? He was called a terrorist when he was a prophet. He was reviled and ridiculed when he should have been listened to. He was imprisoned when his intention was to set us free.

Link: Thank You, Philip Berrigan.