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Call to Selma

Call to Selma

Eighteen Days of Witness

Available as an eBook from Google eBooks or as an eBook in the Amazon Kindle Store. Leonard's journal presents Selma as a pivotal point in the advancement of civil rights.

Author: Richard D. Leonard

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Several free supplemental materials are available on the Skinner House Companion Resources page.

In 1965 Rev. Martin Luther King appealed to clergy across the nation to come to Selma, Alabama, and join protestors in their struggle for voting rights. In all, more than 200 Unitarian Universalists responded, including about one-fifth of all Unitarian Universalist ministers. Reverend Richard Leonard, age 37, was Minister of education at the Community Church of New York at the time he answered Dr. King's call. Leonard's journal, along with the recollections of others who shared the journey, presents Selma as a pivotal point in the advancement of civil rights, and a defining moment for Unitarian Universalism.

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Introduction

The Journal

Memories of Selma

Answering the Call

About the Photographs

Contributors' Notes

Acknowledgments

At one level, Selma is the story of hope redeemed. The organizing efforts of the black leadership proved effective. Local black people were willing to risk danger to achieve their rights. White clergy, especially Unitarian Universalist clergy, stood in solidarity with African Americans. The power of the federal government was invoked in the cause of justice. The Voting Rights Act was passed within months and thousands of black candidates were elected to positions of political leadership in the South. Hope was redeemed.

But the cost was great-the cost in life, the cost in blood, and the cost to the American soul. Selma 1965 was one of the first times that live images of violence were sent into the living rooms of typical Americans. The images were not of some distant land, but of us. White America saw the reality of violence, which Black Americans had lived with for generations. Shock, disbelief, and anger provided President Johnson with the political support to move forward. Martyrs were created. The fragile victory did not hold. As King took the civil rights struggle to Chicago and began speaking out against the Vietnam War and about issues of economic justice, the moral coalition that made possible the Voting Rights victory began to dissolve. The Vietnam conflict consumed Johnson and the nation. The Great Society programs languished, even those that had worked best. In 1968, King was assassinated. American cities went up in flames. Hope was replaced with fear. We must remember that racism was at work even in the way the victory in Selma was achieved. The death of Jimmy Lee Jackson, a black man, did not receive widespread press attention. It did not result in hundreds of white clergy coming to stand in solidarity. It did not produce support from the federal government or the president. It took the death of James Reeb, a white man, to do that.

Selma was a watershed event no less in our own religious community than in the nation at large. The 1968 Cleveland General Assembly, in the face of demands by black Unitarian Universalists and their white allies, committed $1,000,000 toward black economic and community development. This commitment was abrogated two years later as finances became tight and the separatist demands of some black Unitarian Univer?salists came into conflict with long-held dreams of racial integration. During the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a widespread retreat from engagement with racial justice. Many persons of color, including myself, left Unitarian Universalism during this period.

Now, forty years later, the UUA's current commitment to transform itself into an anti-oppressive, antiracist, and multicultural faith offers a source of hope once again. After years of antiracism training, Unitarian Universalist congregations are making specific contributions.

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