In the Netherlands this year we are celebrating 75 years of freedom.
Dr. King said: Freedom is a constant struggle.
In America is is 55 years ago that the Voting Right struggle took place.
It was the spring of 1965 in Selma, Alabama.
There were marches, protests!
Dr. King was speaking about – the urgency of now.
It would be my first Protest March.
There was talk of violence!
The evening before,
we organized a meeting
and learned how to defend ourselves
from armed police, kicks, clubs, tear gas
baseball bats, attack dogs!
After the meeting,
we went to church and sang an old hymn
I’d sung many times –
God Will Take Care of You.
It’s one thing to sing a hymn
in a church
with stained glass windows.
It’s another thing to sing a hymn
when, in the back of your mind,
you’re thinking about
armed police, dogs, clubs, tear gas!
You know that two people had
already been killed in the marches,
and that John Lewis was beaten bloody
and they cracked his skull
on that Bloody Sunday –
on the Edmund Pettis Bridge
in Selma, Alabama.
The next morning,
we gathered together.
There were about fifty of us,
Black and White.
It was peaceful on the street,
lined with shot gun houses
in a poor and kind Black neighborhood.
We started walking down that dusty little street
towards the White neighborhood –
to the Court House
to Register to Vote.
It would not be a problem for me!
But – I wasn’t marching for me!
We kept on walking.
When we finally turned a corner,
the police were lined up –
waiting with clubs and pistols.
The Selma Police Chief was waiting too.
“This March isn’t legal,” he said,
He had a sense of humor.
He “egged” on Hosea Williams
who was leading the March.
“Don’t get your hopes up Hosea!
I’m not going to arrest you.”
That meant –
we wouldn’t get what we wanted.
We wouldn’t make it to the TV news!
And Dr. King wanted the marches and the protests
to make it to the TV national news!!
He wanted to wake up Americans
every single day –
“Till justice rolls down like water
and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
We didn’t know what to do when we saw all the policemen
so we started singing –
Spirituals and Freedom Songs.
“We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”
“I Ain’t Gonna Let Anyone Turn Me Around.”
A group of militants wanted to push thru the Police lines.
I will never forget what Hosea said.
“We’re not gonna physically try to break thru.
We’re gonna do it with words
and our spirit.”
We got down on our knees.
We were silent.
After a few minutes, the first row said to the police
“May God Bless you. We wish you a good day.”
They moved out
and the next row did the same
and the next and the next.
I looked up at the police.
Some of them had tears in their eyes.
I had tears in my eyes too.
I saw how the miracle of love can overcome fear.
“Soul Power over Physical Power,”
Dr. King would say.
That Spring of “1965
will always be before my eyes.
I got to know Dr. King
and started to work for him.
He became my mentor, my minister, my friend.
Sometimes, I even ate in the kitchen
with him and Mrs. King.
Once, when we were sitting at the table,
I blurted out,
“I don’t feel worthy to sit at your table.”
He looked at me
and with that sonorous voice, he said
“Harcourt, you make it necessary for me
to make a long sermon about how people are equal.”
He didn’t have to make that long sermon.
I sat at his table.
Tonight I’m sitting at it still.
WE All ARE.
As we get up from the table of Brotherhood tonight,
stand up like Rosa Parks did.
and go out into the world.
to continue the struggle for freedom!