Marching On- On the Bus, Spring 2015

We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama. The sun was shining 50 years after bloody Sunday. We sang the hallowed songs again with thousands and thousands from around the world who came to honor those people who shed their blood to make America a better place. The lash of racism and poverty still scores our souls, but hearts turn to light every day. We shall overcome. 



Thanks for listening. I see the greatness in you. 

Witness to History: Della Mae Simpson Maynor - On the Bus, Spring 2015

The teen-aged Della Mae Simpson Maynor so wanted to be on the front line at the voting rights march in Marion, Alabama, February 18th, 1965 that she literally pushed her way up until she was standing right behind the leaders. So she witnessed the billy clubs crack heads wide open.  She felt the pain as one swipe cracked her elbow.   

Our group had met Della Mae at the performance of a play about Fannie Lou Hamer performed at nearby Judson College. She lunched with us and then agreed to meet us in Marion at the monument outside her church that honors the foot soldiers who changed the direction of American society. 


The murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson infuriated Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders, sparking their decision to march from Selma to Montgomery. It was at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma March 7th, 1965 that the brutality of the Jim Crow south was on display on TV's across the world.

Della Mae Simpson Maynor is another of the thousands of citizens from across the country and the world who pushed for equal justice.  It was to honor her and the people like her that President Obama came to Selma to speak the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday."  

Della Mae Simpson Maynor remains a foot soldier in the struggle for voting rights. She still lives in the small town of Marion and continues to tell her story and to teach students about the possibilities for a more just future.   


Talking About The Color of Our Skin- On the Bus, Spring 2015

The wise doctors in our group of 52 strong talked about the tiny millimeters of skin they have slice through in order to reach the blood, the vessels and the organs. The tinged flesh, this thin part of our humanity, is still what divides many Americans. Skin tone and hair texture evoke such hatred in some that people are murdered, people are destroyed body and soul.

At the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi we were asked to reflect on this question- when was the first time you became aware of your skin color, or what society has taken to identifying as your race?

Joanne Bland, Selma Marcher- On the Bus, Spring 2015

President Obama came to Selma, Alabama  on the 50th anniversary of the bloody march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to honor those who walked. He called on Congress to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He called on all American's to renew their battles for justice and equality.

Joanne Bland has never stopped fighting. 

Joanne Bland was one of the youngest people put in prison for protesting Jim Crow laws during the 1960's.  She marched on "Bloody Sunday" in Selma in 1965.  Joanne Bland began her civil rights activism as an 8 year old, attending organizing meetings run by Martin Luther King.  By the time she was 11, she had been arrested 13 times. She was co-founder of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. 50 years after she marched to end american apartheid,  she continues to write, lecture and speak out for civil rights.   She offers tours to people who want to remember the past and imagine a different future.

Emmett Till, Money, Mississippi- On the Bus, Spring 2015

Emmett Till was a 14 year old Chicagoan visiting his cousins in Money, Mississippi in 1955 when he was brutally murdered by white men for supposedly speaking to the 21 year old white wife of the proprietor of the general store. The murder sparked an international outcry.  An historic marker now stands in front of the restored Bryant Grocery store. That is a rare occurrence.  Officials admit they have allowed so many civil rights landmarks to be destroyed in Mississippi that they say they have lost count.  By erasing the landmarks, the white southerners who deny their racist past can also deny the contemporary bigotry that still persists.




I had a  US history named Thomas Govan in college.  He was an old southerner from Louisiana teaching at the University of Oregon in the 70's. His courses on radical American history focused on the battles over workers rights and racism.  We examined the establishment of the Klan, the rise of Jim Crow, the lynchings and the murders of men by white mobs for simply failing to comply with their racist rules.

Govan used to quote the Southern writer Robert Penn Warren who said, "History is the painful, powerful, grinding process by which ideas are assimilated by a society." He wished that it was the good ideas that persisted, but my professor knew that the bad ones, like the rotten notion of bigotry,  also clung on,  He believed only an honest, probing assessment of the past, remembering, could provide the path to change. 

Emmett Till's murderers were brought to trial. It was covered by media from around the world. They were acquitted by an all-white jury. Because blacks could not vote, they could also not serve on juries. Studies done as recently as 2010 show that African-Americans are still being systematically excluded from juries in at least 8 southern states.

The killers went on to admit their guilt in a paid Life Magazine interview. Because of the doctrine of double jeopardy, they couldn't be re-tried. 

Emmett Till's 1955 murder and the subsequent failure of the legal system is said to have helped jump start the American civil rights revolution.  

The Tallahatchie County Courthouse where Till's murderers were tried and acquitted is being restored and will serve as a working courthouse and museum.



UMiss-Another Step Along the Journey - On the Bus, Spring 2015

James Meredith reportedly doesn't like the statue the University of Mississippi has put up on campus to honor his role in integrating the school in 1962.  In part, it's said he wants to recognize all the people who made strides for civil rights in America.  

The lessons we learn every day of our pilgrimage is that there are many more steps to be taken.  

Aida Solomon has come to this campus to work for The Winter Institute For Racial Reconciliation. The UW Senior is working is talking with young people around the state about their history and their racial biases.   She hopes confronting those issues in Mississippi will give her tools to push racial progress in the Northwest.


A visitor can still see the bullet holes that struck the Lyceum on the night of September 30th, 1962 when federal marshals and national guard troops clashed with the mob of segregationists. Two people were killed. Scores were wounded. People across the world saw the bloody fight being waged in support of hate and privilege. The Meredith statue and other historical signs mark the end of more than 100 years of segregation. But many scholars say the accomplishments should not defer the work that needs to be done to confront ongoing racism or its 400 year legacy. That legacy and its hold today is evident.  The campus is still dotted with memorials to confederate officers. The confederate battle flag, still  a part of Mississippi's official state flag, flutters above the campus walkways. Buildings are named for slave-owners, Critics say students need to be exposed to their whole history.

James Meredith's statue shows him stepping though the portal of higher education. As Aida Solomon knows, it is just one of many steps still being taken on campuses across the nation.


Fannie Lou Hamer- On the Bus, Spring 2015

Fannie Lou Hamer was one of the heroes of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. 


Hamer was a voting rights organizer from Ruleville, deep in the heart of the Mississippi delta, when she stepped into the national spotlight at the 1964 Democratic Convention.  Hamer and her integrated delegation from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party charged that the all white, anti-civil rights delegation from Mississippi didn’t represent all democrats in the state. In the end, Hamer rejected an unsatisfying compromise Democrats had crafted to keep southerners from supporting Republican Barry Goldwater.


She ran for congress twice after that, but lost.  She continued to work on civil rights, children’s education and access to fresh foods for the poor.   


She died in 1977 and is buried in Ruleville beside her husband at the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden. Andrew Young attended her funeral.  So many people came to pay respects that an overflow service took place at the local high school.


A statue to Hamer was dedicated at the park in 2012.


On the bus, UW student Chris Springs helped set the scene before our visit to the garden.  Bob Zellner, who worked with Hamer, told stories.  Student Mentor Komal Sahota sang a song in her honor.  Then we lined up beneath Fannie Lou Hamer’s  statue and musician Mark Pearson led us in Hamer’s favorite song, “This Little Light of Mine,” 

Central High School Little Rock Arkansas- On the Bus, Spring 2015

A young woman in a white skirt walked down the street in front of Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957. A mob of screaming white citizens spit on her, threw trash and tossed spoiled tomato's.  Her desire to go to school, their raw fear and hate, that image went around the world. They soiled her clothes but not her spirit.  

We toured the still active high school. It's a national park site now. Joel Allen talked about the pain of times. We read poems from Londonderry. Oppression is universal too.



Welcome To The Beloved Community- On the Bus, Spring 2015


At the 1st Baptist Church in Montgomery, we were met with hugs and handshakes and song. A swirling, all encompassing, all embracing song of love. 

We toured the cold Tuscaloosa campus of the University of Alabama.

A mound of rubble has been preserved above the Big Red Tide. It is a symbol of the Confederacy. They hold ceremonies on it.

They rebuilt the home of the President to look like an antebellum mansion. They painted it a nice white. They gave a nice coat of white paint to the old slave quarters out back too. 

 We got on the bus for Montgomery, to see where Rosa Parks just got fed up with the bone-wearying oppressions of Jim Crow. Around the corner is the Equal Justice Initiative, housed on the wounded ground of an old slave warehouse, down the street from the old slave market, where skilled artisans brought $3,000.

In America. 

 In the 1850's. 

Around the time Darwin and Wallace figured out the theory of evolution, efficient generators were turning mechanical energy into electricity, steel was being manufactured, Goya's engravings were thrilling museum-goers, Robert and Elizabeth Browning were writing poetry, Melville, Baudelaire and Harriet Beecher Stowe were in print.

The young lawyers told us today, 40 percent of African American males in Alabama had felony convictions and so couldn't vote. Disenfranchised by the writers of the law.  

Striving for justice doesn't allow for the indulgence of bitterness.  As we learned again at the 1st Baptist Church in Montgomery, there is no time for hatred.  There is only time to imagine a better world.


Prologue: The Waiting Room- On the Bus, Spring 2015

Prologue: Kane Hall February 23rd- Anticipation, Trepidation, Empowerment and Song

Monday, February 23rd, at the UW's Kane Hall, where David Domke and friends deliver the last of 5 lectures on the Civil Rights era and Selma Alabama. 52 strong, we are getting ready to travel on a bus from Atlanta to Montgomery and points in between. Hundreds strong this evening, we are gathered to think about the history of the movement. But we are also gathered to be challenged to think about the movement today, because the battles are still being fought and the outcome is far from certain.  

The bus is warming up. We mingle in an integrated waiting room.

Black and white, young and old, we are joined by our hopes and fears, but we are together. 

 In a not too distant past, we would not have been together.  We would have waited apart, whites in one room, blacks in another.  This unnatural division, built on fear and hate, shaped the culture and shaped the souls of the people who lived in that culture. 

 It isn't hard to imagine the emotions that built the society.   Even now, that fear and hate seems palpable, though better disguised.

I have avoided the south. I fear the hatred will infect me.  I fear it will get on the tips of my fingers, curl itself around my ears, snake its ways up my nostril and suck the air from my lungs.   

But I am already stained.  it is unavoidable.

I can taste it still and see it still.  It yet reveals itself in the slight sneer around the corner of a mouth, in the flicker of an eye, the arch of an eyebrow, an odd comment.

The bus is ready and we will ride out together on the pilgrimage, 

with lingering ghosts to haunt our journey.

Prologue: The Legacy of Selma- On the Bus, Spring 2015

The Legacy of Selma still drives America.

50 years ago, American citizens were being killed in the fight for the right to vote. During three marches in March of 1965, civil rights activists seeking the right to register in Alabama were met by tear gas and Billy clubs. Local police and State troopers beat the non-violent protestors on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.  The televised violence galvanized the nation and Congress. President Johnson pushed through the 1965 voting rights act, one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the countries history.

But the battle for freedom is ongoing. Today, the courts have removed pieces of that legislation and some states are restricting access to the ballot box.  The streets of the nation are filled with protestors challenging the police shootings of young black men. 


Over 5 lectures delivered in January and February 2015, the University of Washington’s Chair of the Communication Department, David Domke examined that history and it’s importance today in a series of lectures, Marching to Selma: How MLK, LBJ & The Civil Rights Movement Changed The World. 


We met in late December to discuss the legacy of Selma at the NE Branch of the Seattle Public Library. (Hence the slightly hushed tones.)  


David Domke says his meetings with the still living foot soldiers of those marches have profoundly changed him. He has traveled to the south three times with groups from the northwest. 

In March, he is taking another group of adults and college students to follow the path from Atlanta, through Memphis and on to Selma. 


I will be on that journey and sharing stories with you about the legacy of the civil rights era and the emergence of a new activism.