A Pilgrimage to The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Definition of a pilgrimage (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary)

  1. a journey of a pilgrim especially: one to a shrine or a sacred place
  2. the course of life on earth
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The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Yesterday, I went on my first official pilgrimage with my interim rector Father Tom Momberg and six other parishioners from The Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, Alabama. We went to the Legacy Museum together, and later, on my own, I went to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

The morning started in the chapel where Father Momberg handed out a leaflet aptly named In Search of a Church that Heals. Last week, was the celebration of the Feast of St. Luke. The feast day was on October 18th, but feast days are transferable to other days. St. Luke was a physician and a great healer.

Father Momberg did a short service, and delivered the gospel Luke 4:14-21 (from The Message). Here is an excerpt:

“God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, 

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!'”

What more powerful words to prepare for our journey.

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We caravanned to the museum. The Legacy Museum located on 115 Coosa Street, about 6 minutes away from our church. We did not walk as pilgrims usually do. Coosa Street is in the heart of old downtown Montgomery. The Legacy Museum exist in the location of a warehouse that once housed slaves before they were to be sold at what is now Court Square).

There are no photographs allowed in the Legacy Museum, which is why all my photographs are from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. When you enter the museum, you immediately go to the left. There you learn about the slave trade and how Montgomery became the hub going from 40,000 slaves to over 450,000 slaves in only a matter of years.

You listen to the stories of the slaves, read their narratives on the wall, and you learn that the stories you learned in 6th grade or 7th grade about benevolent, kind, compassionate plantation owners were false narrative, a way to help guilty white people come to terms to their past, perhaps, or to keep perpetuating racism. After you read these stories, you go down a long black hallway and turn to your right. There are holograms in cages. They, too, tell you their story. Children separated from their parents, people beaten, anguish, pain.

As you enter the main room, you read a timeline with pictures. The timeline shows you how the United States went from slavery, to Jim Crow, to Mass Incarceration of black people while continuing to perpetuate the myth that black (wo)men were intelligently inferior to white people and that black people are dangerous.

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There is a block with Supreme Court cases showing the cases in which racist policies were either struck down or held up by our Supreme Court from the 1800s until 2013.

Did you know that integration has yet to have been ratified in Alabama?

There is a section on mass incarceration where you hear Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who was falsely accused of murder and put on death row for 30 years, tell his story. You listen to him over the phone as if you are visiting him in jail. Thirty years taken away from this man, because of our flawed justice system. Let that sink in.

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Drowning with their hands up. (Police Brutality)

Yesterday, as I walked through this museum on my pilgrimage, surrounded by other pilgrims and tourists, I felt so alone. I read and absorbed with new eyes. I had been to the museum in the summer with my sister, but this experience was different. I thought about the Gospel according to Luke and the phrase, “set your burdened and battered free.” I thought about how my family was complicit in these acts. I felt guilt from my ancestors and pain and anguish, and like I’m not doing enough to help change the way things are and the way things SHOULD be.

By the time I made it over to the jars I felt raw and weary. The jars contain soil from the sites of lynching victims. They are labeled with their names or read Unknown. I stood reading, on a scrolling screen, about the people who had been lynched for “sins” such as talking to a white woman or looking at a white person the wrong way. There’s the story of Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, who was lynched for protesting her husband, Hayes Turner’s, lynching. She was eight months pregnant, and her unborn child was also brutally murdered. Then the lynchers went on a killing rampage murdering 11 people in a brutal mob. As I watched the names scroll, two African American women stood at another screen, pushing a button that says WARNING: Graphic Content, this screen will blur in 10 seconds. The screen shows pictures of the lynchings, people being burned alive, hung from trees, mutilated as they died, with hundreds or thousands of white onlookers. Postcards of the lynchings printed and sold afterwards. And you wonder how someone could be so cruel?

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Names of lynching victims

I completely broke down. I walked to the bathroom sobbing, crying for our past, and trying to reconcile how to fix it or how to move forward. On the way a woman stopped me, touched my shoulder, and said, “It’s going to be alright. Things will get better.” Hope. 

After I broke down, I went back into the museum and watched the movies about incarceration, about the need for prison reform, about the slave trade, and about the lynchings. I thought about the questions on the back of the leaflet Father Tom Momberg gave us and the one that read:

Have you received a message of Good News?

I felt confused by this question, but then realized that The Legacy Museum is bringing us together. It’s a step in the right direction. With awareness, change can occur. As the stranger in the bathroom said to me, “things will get better,” but I’d like to add the words: if we make them better. If we fight for change, we can begin the long arduous process of healing the wounds, of claiming our racist past and making amends for it. We can tell people we are sorry for what our ancestors did to them, and we can start making the necessary changes in the prisons, in the schools, in the churches, and in society to help our brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters, and we should treat each other as such.

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Looking Forward

I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction yesterday, but sometimes I think when we are experiencing a moment like that we need to embrace the feeling. At that moment, I felt so overwhelmed by the past, but afterwards I felt relief and a sense of peace.

When I arrived at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice after lunch and communion, I felt calm spread over me. I touched the names etched into the columns. I spoke to a man who had traveled from Georgia, and I told him I was sorry for what my ancestors had done, and he said, “We all have a place here.” Wisdom. Forgiveness. Grace.

The second meaning of pilgrimage is “the course of life on earth.” What will you do with yours?

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In the words of Toni Morrison, “Love your heart,” and use that heart to make change. 

 

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Comfortably Numb

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet with our interim rector. We had coffee at Prevail Union in downtown Montgomery. If you live in Montgomery, go there now. Best coffee house around!

I met with him to discuss Valiant Cross Academy, church, and also to plan. He shared with me some of his life. I shared my life with him. I told him how I moved from banking (where I comfortably sat for 15 years) to a development job at a non-profit school that serves young men, providing the necessary skills for them to become leaders through love and structure.

We talked about callings. We talked about being called away from one vocation and called to another vocation. Tom’s words spoke to me, because this happened recently in my life, and I think MOST people thought I was crazy or having a mid-life crisis. I know when I wake up and go to work every day I feel fulfilled and like I’m making a difference. I didn’t feel that way in the banking world (despite all the people I met, developed relationships with, and continue to love).

We also talked about social justice and racism.

Tom shared with me an article he wrote after he visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. If you haven’t been there, then go. It’s more important than coffee. In Tom’s article, he referenced the song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I hadn’t listened to that song in years. Here it is for those of you who haven’t heard it.

Reflecting on Tom’s words, I thought about how I had walked through life for years comfortably numb. I lived in my middle class world, surrounded by more middle class people, and I closed my eyes to the social injustices going on. About a year ago, I started reading about social injustice, about the education to prison pipeline, and about systemic racism which continues to plague the United States. And I believe reading about these issues was the catalyst for my job change.

We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place for ourselves and our children. And we need to stop being comfortably numb.

What’s your catalyst? How are you going to change the world?

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No One Wants To Be On The Bottom

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I am reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. As a white person, in the South, I feel it’s my duty to understand race relations and become an agent and ally for change. I’ve read: Waking Up White, Just Mercy, and The Hate U Give this year, in an effort to understand where and how I perpetuate racism as a system of control over African Americans. No one wants to think of themselves as racist. No one. But, in a system contrived to keep an entire race down, we are all complicit in perpetuating the cycle of racism that exist in the U.S. today.

In the New Jim Crow, Alexander explains the system of mass incarceration and how it became a system directly following slavery. I’m still within the first 50 pages of the book, and already I’ve learned that the systemic racism established in the South was methodical. Directly following the Civil War and the freedom of the slaves, during the Reconstruction period, a lot of strides were made in granting freedom and liberty to African Americans. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act gave African Americans full citizenship. The 14th Amendment prohibited states from denying citizens due process. The 15th Amendment state the right to vote could not be denied based on race. And the Ku Klux Klan Acts declared interfering with voting a federal offense and violent infringement of civil rights a crime (Alexander, page 29).

After this happened, there was a great increase in the number of African Americans who voted and who sought legislative offices. And this scared the white elite of the South, because they felt like they were losing their power, their livelihood.

So there was a backlash. And the Southerners found ways to keep African Americans in their place, an earlier precursor to the Jim Crow Laws. When incarcerated, African Americans were sent to farms and literally worked to death. Incarceration of African Americans soared (just like it is today), as a way to control African Americans. Eventually, work farms like Parchman Farm in Mississippi sprang up.

Around the turn of the century, a “Populist” group of poor whites joined together with poor African Americans to fight against the power of the White Elite. The Populist group, at first, strove for equality with African Americans touting liberalism as paternalism, which the African American population did not like. The Conservatives played off of this and even convinced some African American voters that the political and economic equality touted by the liberals could cause the blacks to lose everything they had gained since the end of slavery.

For a brief period of time, the Populists made strides in integration, and then Conservative lawmakers introduced segregation and the Jim Crow laws in order to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans. Populist leaders realigned themselves with conservatives, and the Jim Crow laws were put into effect (Alexander, 34). Conservatives had found a way to prove African Americans were different and played on the psychology of poor whites that somehow poor African Americans were holding them down. No one wants to be on the bottom.

All of this or most of this was economically driven. After the Civil War, white elites were put into a precarious position, because they no longer had free labor. When African Americans were given more rights, white elites saw this as an attack on their power, and they suppressed that power. Jim Crow ended mostly because of public (global) perception during World War II, and due to the Civil Rights Movement. But as it ended, new systems were being put into place to check the power (economic, intellectual, and otherwise) of African Americans.

I am only at the beginning of this book, and I can already see how the system collaborated to make it hard for African Americans to flourish. The U.S. perpetuated the idea that African Americans were somehow different from us (after all, at one point the U.S. Constitution considered them 3/5ths of a person). After the Civil War, the idea of the black savage was painted with a heavy coat. African Americans were disproportionately incarcerated and given long sentences. Some children were even incarcerated for minor infractions. If one thinks the black savage is an idea of yesterday, they need to think again.

In the U.S., today, there is a we vs. them mentality. African American males are locked up more than any other population. The U.S. is the only country in the world that has such a high majority of minorities incarcerated. African Americans are still denied counsel. African Americans receive disproportionately long prison sentences. African Americans are more often executed for the crimes they commit.  It’s time to change that.

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Just Be Nice

Just Be Nice

I slacked on keeping my series on race going. I finished Waking Up White about a month ago. I read it slowly, really absorbing the material. Also, I made screenshots of a lot of quotes and the questions at the end of the chapters that spoke to me.

One such quote (and I’m sorry I read this on a Kindle, so I don’t know what page it was on—Kindle folks: location 3061 of 4136) is “Though I never feared for my safety, or that I’d lose status or friends, I did spend most of my life thinking I had to make a choice between being either a polite person or an angry activist.”

This quote spoke to me. How many times as a child was I told, “Just be nice.” How many times do I tell my kids to “Just be nice?” Niceness is nice, right? But niceness also can take away the voice and the power of some people. Is being polite swallowing your words in the face of blatant racism? It shouldn’t be. Is being polite nodding along while people spout of views you don’t agree with? It shouldn’t be. Is being polite going along with an administration that espouses racist views and seeks to divide our country? It shouldn’t be.

Did you ever watch The Real World? Boy, I just loved Puck and the guy who thought he was Garth Brooks. On the beginning credits of the show they had a one-liner: It’s Time to Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real.

For a long time, I spent my life being polite. When I moved back to Montgomery, I left my voice in D.C. I nodded along with people made derogatory comments. I nodded along when people made fun of Liberals (I am a liberal!). I didn’t realize how much I was a people-pleaser, until I moved back to a place that thought everyone with white skin thought the same way they did.

I didn’t stop being polite until after Trump became president. Then I felt like I had to do something. My mother and I became activists, fighting for what we think is right for all people. Stop being nice and start being your true self.

What does it look like to stop being polite and start being real, you may ask. It’s simple:

  • Don’t Be Complicit to Racism and Discrimination: When someone makes a derogatory comment about a person with a different gender, a different skin color, or a different sexuality tell them you disagree with them. Open your mouth and say, “I don’t believe that.” They may give you a stunned look and walk away, or you may be able to state your point of view. But the important thing is, you’re standing up for what’s right, not being complicit to continued prejudices.
  • Learn: I’ve read a lot about how our nation has perpetuated racism. Before I started on this journey, I knew racism existed. I didn’t know to what extent our system had kept it going. It saddened me to read Just Mercy and see how our justice system treats African Americans so differently than anyone else. It saddened me to hear the GI Bill didn’t serve African Americans the same way it served white Americans. It saddens me to see how our schools continued to be segregated, reinforcing the cycle of poverty that African Americans are so desperately trying to claw their way out of. Having educated myself about several of the issues, I feel more readily able to discuss them, not only with my white friends, but also to get perspective from my black friends. And that brings me to my next point:
  • Discuss: Talk about racism to your black friends. Talk about how they are discriminated against. I can tell you, these discussions may be uncomfortable for you, but they will probably make your black friends feel like you are one of the good ones and you’re at least trying to understand how your actions could be making them feel uncomfortable. Realize, as a white person you have privilege, and acknowledge that.
  • Make Space: If your child attends a school with a PTA, invite your black friends to become presidents, secretaries, etc. Many of them feel as if their voices are not being heard, even at schools. Show them they are welcome and that their voices are needed so we can make our schools more successful for every child.
  • Teach Your Children: About racism and how to combat racism. Let them know the history of racism and how they can support policies that seek to remove racism from our society. Talk to them about the Slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Ida B. Wells. Let them know the important contributions African Americans make and continue to make in our society. Let them know race is man-made, and they have the power and the ability in the future to disable the systemic racism our country was built on.
  • Find a cause and support it. Use your voice. Use your activism. Don’t be quiet.

Books to Read:

Waking Up White by Debby Irving

Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

At The Dark End of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire

Just to name a few.

Recently my husband and I visited Memphis on a getaway. We went to the Civil Rights Museum there that’s located inside the Lorraine Motel where MLK, Jr. was killed. Below are a couple of pictures from that visit. Visual reminders why we need to keep fighting for equity, equality, and for the right thing. America should be a place where everyone can achieve their dream.

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View from Inside the Lorraine Motel to the balcony where MLK, Jr. was shot April 4, 1968

Room MLK Jr stayed in at the Lorraine Motel

MLK Jr’s Motel Room Inside The Lorraine Motel

Freedom Riders Bus

A replica of the Greyhound bus that was firebombed in Anniston, AL in 1961 — Freedom Riders

For More Blog Posts in this series, click the links below:

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

Family Values and Principles

You’ve Got Class

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Pride Cometh Before the Fall

Today’s story is another flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog over at TerribleMinds. The assignment was to write Good vs. Evil in whatever genre we chose. I chose Southern Fiction. I had a hard time coming up with an idea for this, as I don’t believe in purely good and evil. Walking the dogs today, I thought about this character Henny who I had been thinking of writing, and the story came to me. Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Thanks!

Pride Cometh Before the Fall (795 words)

Henny bent down to pick up the pecans that had fallen from the trees. She loved pecans, hard on the outside but soft on the inside, just like Papa. Papa’s hands had calluses and his face felt like leather, but he had a soft kind spirit that made Henny prideful.

Mama always said, “Pride cometh before the fall.”

Henny knew it was a Bible verse but whenever she thought of that phrase she thought of Mama’s hard, grim face and puckered lips.

The bag of pecans rustled against the tire of her bike as she pushed it through Mr. William’s pecan grove. She almost had enough.  When Mama baked pies with Henny some of her worn-outness disappeared. Sometimes Mama would soften like the dough, laughing and smiling as they kneaded it, creating something out of nothing.

“Henny, you run out now and get some pecans from over at Williams’ place so we can have a sweet pecan pie tonight. Shoo—go along now,” Mama said.

Henny knew she had been sent away because it was her little brother’s nap time. Mama said Henny could make more noise than a heap of Indians. Henny couldn’t sit still either—that’s what her teachers said. She had an abundance of energy she somehow could not deplete. Papa liked to tease her and would say, “Henny, it’s a wonder your battery ain’t never run out.”

Henny heard a rustle on the far side of the pecan grove. She rolled her bike through mountains of nuts stepping gingerly to avoid crunching any pecans underneath her feet. What she saw made her eyes grow big. The Klan—just about six or seven of ‘em. Her heartbeat sped up making her feel light headed. She put the kickstand down, and hid behind a big pecan tree.

Two men with white pointed hats held a black man by the arms.

“Don’t do it,” the black man screamed. “I din’t do it. I promise. Lemme go. I got a family.”

The Klansman leaned close to the black man and whispered in his ear. The black man looked like he peed himself. Henny stood still with fear. Another man came from the distance carrying a length of rope. They all looked like little toy soldiers. Dressed all in white there was no way to tell who was who. The black man wept. His eyes were red with tears.

He prayed out loud, “Dear God, please save me.”

Henny repeated his prayer. “Dear God, please save him.”

The men switched places, and the tallest Klansman made a loop in the rope. He cut a piece of it with a knife and tied the black man’s arms behind his back. The black man began to shuffle, hysterically trying to get away. The tallest Klansman dropped the knife but kept a strong grip on the rope. He pushed it over the black man’s head and tightened the loop. By this time one of the other Klansmen had climbed the tree. They hoisted the black man up and tied him there. The Klansman in the tree jumped down. There was noise in the distance, like a gunshot. The Klansmen looked around, but Henny couldn’t see their eyes. All seven of them stormed off into one direction, probably looking for the source of the distraction.

Henny’s eyes filled with tears. The black man was not dead. He hung there, struggling for breath. His hands remained tied behind his back. He gasped for air, the rope slowly digging into his neck, and turning his face as red as a tomato. His whole body swung with the effort to escape.

Henny made sure the white-robed men were gone. She tiptoed out from behind the tree.

She grabbed the knife the tallest Klansman had forgotten on the ground. It felt familiar in her palm, but she had no time to think about it. She shimmied up the tree as fast as she could. The black man’s eyes finding hers as he struggled to breathe against the tightness of the rope. She started sawing into the rope as fast as she could. Harder and harder until clunk, the black man was on the ground.

He coughed, grabbing at his neck. Henny looked down from above. She could see a red ring around his neck. She wanted to throw-up.

“Thank you, little girl. Thank you.” The hoarseness of his words made him hard to understand.

“You better run,” Henny said.

He nodded, rubbing his neck, and took off.

Henny climbed back down the tree turned the knife over and saw the inscription.

“To Papa. Happy Birthday. Love Henny.”

She sunk down to the ground and began to cry. The wind rustled in the trees as pecans fell to the ground like bullets. Fall was coming.

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Seeking Understanding and Peace

I haven’t blogged in three weeks. I’m sure you noticed my silence. At first, there was no blog because I was in Mexico. Then I wanted to write about Mexico and July 4th, but I was getting back into the swing of things with work and simply didn’t have the time. Plus, I was using my mornings to read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (must read!) and my lunches to workout. I gained some weight in Mexico. That story is for another time.

Then this week, two black men were killed at the hands of trigger-happy cops. Again. One man was approached because he was selling CDs illegally out of a parking lot. Another man was pulled over because his taillight was out. Both men were murdered.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I’ve listened to people say things like, “All life matters.” “This wouldn’t be news if it was a white man.” “If you do something illegal you deserve to be shot.” “If he hadn’t had a gun, he wouldn’t be shot.” (The gun one gets me, because these are some of the same people who said in Orlando, ‘If they’d only had guns…’” And the majority of these people are not for gun control). And I can tell you, that there are those that seek to blame the victim to deflect the real problem here which is racism. Those statements come from a place of white privilege. White privilege exists. Even if you’re poor and white you have white privilege, because of your history and because of the way our society caters to white people. Read Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and you will get it. I have white privilege and I know it. My children do too. I’m not in the position to understand how the black community feels about this happening. I have never been in their shoes, but I know that this type of careless regard for people of color (POC) is not right. Racism is taught and passed down generation by generation. Often people who are racist don’t see themselves as such.

Covert racism is still racism, even if it isn’t seen as such.  Saying that Alton Sterling had a record, or he was selling CDs illegally is besides the point. If a white man was doing that, would he be held down, shot and killed or would he have a chance to be arrested and go to trial? And Philando Castile? He told the officer he had a gun in the car, reached for his license and was shot in the arm—for what? For being truthful? In front of his wife and child. If you have seen that video, or if you have seen the video of Sterling’s son sobbing and did not feel that what happened was wrong then something is very wrong with you.

Look at the numbers of the percentage of unarmed black people being killed in the US: http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed/. If you can look at these numbers and still tell me that this is not a problem then you don’t need to read any further, because nothing I write will make a difference to you.

I believe there are good cops. I know some. I believe there are cops who aren’t going to walk up to a man like Alton Sterling or a man like Philando Castile and shoot them. I believe the cops who did used their prejudices to harm people who they shouldn’t have. They let their racist views affect their judgment and that’s not okay. Those cops were ill prepared for the job that they signed up for.

I also believe it’s time to change the mentality in the US that violence is okay. In the wake of the deaths of Sterling and Castile, more violence came in the shooting of innocent cops at what was supposed to be a peaceful protest for #BlackLivesMatter in Dallas. This is not okay! Seeing this violence over social media has desensitized us to what actually is happening. These are not movies. Real, innocent people are losing their lives: POC and cops. Real children, wives, girlfriends, husbands, mothers and fathers are mourning their fathers, husbands, sons, wives, daughters TODAY. 

I have to ask you this question. Do you want your child growing up in a world where they see hate and violence every day? My children have good friends of color, and I feel for them and their parents. They live in fear that something will happen to them, their sons, their cousins, their brothers. As a white person, I speak from privilege and a place of not having to fear that for my sons. My boys won’t be looked at with a wary eye if they’re wearing a hoodie and walking down the road at night, but my friend’s son might, just because of the color of his skin.

I have friends who are cops, and I live in fear for them that now that these incidents have happened vigilantes will take it into their own hands to prove a point by killing more innocent people. It has got to stop. Gun violence doesn’t help. Hate doesn’t help. Protecting our brothers and sisters does. We can make a change when we start standing up for POC when we become vocal in saying what is happening is not okay; when we tell people we know and that we love that their racist comments are not helpful, but indeed they serve to drive a wedge between us and our brothers and sisters; when cops start turning in bad cops; when we find a way to control gun violence in this country. That change starts at home.

If you’re white, then talk to your children about the privilege they have in being white. Tell them that their friends who aren’t white don’t have that same privilege. Let them know that racism does still exist and that they will be taxed with fighting against it in the future. Tell them to stand up for their friends who are POC. Tell them not to accept overt or covert racism from people they know. Tell them that the solution to violence is never more violence. Ask the US to seek gun control. Provide mental health services for cops who have seen violence and tragedy in the field. I’m sure there’s a system in which cops can report other cops who they deem are misusing their power. Use those systems so that all Americans can feel safe when they’re pulled over for something as minor as a broken taillight. I don’t want to see anymore POC killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time at the wrong side of a barrel. I don’t want to see any more cops senselessly killed for trying to do their duty and protect people. Let’s change America and bring back a sense of pride in the fact that we are different but that we are all US citizens who seek freedom and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s show our children that we can live peacefully together, love one another and they don’t need to fear someone just because their skin is a different color.

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The Hanging Tree

Yesterday, my family traipsed all over Alabama. I had memories of my childhood, where my parents’ special talent seemed to be turning a four hour trip into an eight hour trip. We drove to Moundville, AL and on the way home we came through Selma, AL. In case you didn’t know, the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Movement is this year. Today, the walkers who recreated the 1965 walk from Selma to Montgomery are arriving in Montgomery. We have come so far, but there is still a lot of hate in our world. There are still a lot of people who are denied rights. There is still a lot of racism. Teach your children well, to love all men, and there will be a lot less hate and racism. Hate begets hate. Love begets love.

I took this, not so wonderful cell-phone picture, of the Edmund Pettus bridge from the backseat of a mini-van. Sorry for the glare, but it shows you where my inspiration for this week’s Mid-week Blues Buster came from. 

EdmundPettus Bridge

The Hanging Tree
635 words
@laurenegreene

The last few times they’d visited the tree a rope had been hanging from one of the branches, a perfect circle, a hangman’s rope, Pamela knew. They’d put it there as a warning, the men with the tall white hats who ran around haunting the town.

Pamela and Nathan had ridden their bikes down to the five and dime to get a peppermint stick that day. They liked to sit under the shade of the old oak tree on the edge of town and talk.

Danny Risen nodded at them as they left the store, the jingle of the bell following them as they secured their feet on the pedals of their bikes and rode through the town of Selma. Old plantation houses loomed. A town, rich on textiles, and the center of what Pamela’s mother said was the Voting Rights movement. Just a few days before, the march had taken place. Pamela’s mother and father said it was about time. But Pamela knew they were in the minority.  The kids at school had nothing good to say about it.

They pedaled, the wind rippling through their hair, out to the edge of town and turned the corner on the dirt road toward the tree.

“Danny Risen is one of them.”

“How do you know?” Pamela asked.

The Ku Klux Klan members in Selma kept their identity a secret, but Nathan always claimed to know who was who.

“They set fire to a cross in front of one of their black preacher’s houses the other day. I heard Bucky talking about it at school. Said his Pa did it. Seemed right proud too.”

They pedaled down the dirt road, but even from this distance Pamela could see the shadow of the man hanging. Her heart sped up as her feet moved faster on the pedals.. She thought maybe if she could get there she could save him. Nathan always chastised her for wanting to save the world. “It’s too big of a task for a girl to take on,” he said.

Nathan had fallen behind, even as Pamela pedaled faster.  When they reached the tree, they saw the limp legs, hanging. The shoes untied and the feet at an awkward angle. Pamela slowly moved her eyes up his body, taking in every detail, until she saw his face. Ghostly white and young, his eyes were open, staring into the unknown face of death. There were scratches on his face and neck, where he’d tried to get the rope off his neck as he slowly suffocated to death.  Pamela had overheard her father say that when men were hung they danced a jig, their body jerking strangely, as they were slowly deprived of oxygen.

“I thought they put bags on their heads,” Nathan said.

Pamela shook her head, looking down at his feet again, his shoes seemed polish to a tee. This was a proud man, and he’d been pulled from Lord knows where and murdered for no reason. Pamela’s tears fell into the dirt, and Nathan placed a hand on her shoulder.

“There ain’t nothing we can do for him now, Pam. Come on. Let’s go home and tell someone. The least we can do is that, and maybe he can get a proper burial.”

Pamela shook Nathan’s hand off her shoulder.

“We need to get him down.”

“He’s deader than a doornail. A big ‘ole man like that. How do you think we can do that?”

She didn’t answer, and they turned to leave. From then on, her memories of the oak tree weren’t of spring and summer days with Nathan, unwinding and laughing in the shade.  Whenever she thought of the oak tree, she’d see the man’s face, bloated with eyes wide open and lips slightly parted as if he was questioning, “Why me?”