BY STEVE DUNN
Many years ago I was part of a ministry team sent to Mississippi to explore connecting with churches that were seeking a denomination to become a part of. I am not sure what criterion they were using in approaching us, but for us it was a chance to establish a presence in the South. Over 120 years before that, our fledgling missionary efforts in the South had ended when our abolitionist beliefs ran straight into the wall of segregation and pro-slavery sentiment. In fact, our denominational magazine had been burned by postal authorities in Richmond as “dangerous and seditious.”
This was in the early 80’s and we were hoping that sentiments had changed. But as we passed near the city of Philadelphia MS, one old preacher made what he meant to be a joke. “You probably know what happened around here a while back to another group of boys from Ohio.” Our denominational office was in Ohio and he was referring to the killing of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan. Fortunately, he was an exception to the people in his church; but it was deeply troubling that such an attitude in anyone could be considered humorous. Murder and racism are not funny.
Only 15 years before my visit to Philadelphia MS, a major event occurred in civil rights history. In Selma AL nonviolent protestors attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge. It became known as Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965), taking its name from the beating that roughly 600 peaceful civil rights activists sustained at the hands of white state troopers and police who attacked them with batons and sprayed them with tear gas.
These people were simply protesting so that they could have an equal right to vote–something that African-Americans had been promised 100 years before that. They were opposed by the embedded racism that justified segregation, states rightists who believed the state should have sovereignty over the nation, and the virulent, violent hatred of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Sadly, racism is not yet ended in America–in fact, a racism exists that often goes both ways. And the wounds of racism are not healed and there are too many people who gain their self-worth by perpetuating it.
It is something we cannot stop battling against.