Freedom is a constant struggle

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,

“Go home!”

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!

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