Influenced by Bob Dylan’s social commentary, songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri penned “Eve of Destruction.” Barry McGuire rode that bullet to the top of the charts in 1965. “Eve of Destruction” makes the point one does not have to look far and wide to discover the ugly face of hatred:
“Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama…
Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.”
Selma would have seemed as distant as Red China to anyone raised in a white, “Leave It to Beaver” community. In such communities there was no segregation. Anyone could enjoy dining anywhere he or she chose. Any child could play in any public park or swim in any public pool. Movie theaters were integrated and open to members of any race. It was not the case for many Southern U.S. cities.
Released in time for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, “Selma” the movie is a powerful Civil Rights narrative. The film touches ever so briefly on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Mississippi Freedom Riders, the struggle against Bull Connor and segregation in Birmingham, Ala., and the March on Washington. However it focuses upon voting rights in Selma.
One of the pivotal events in the Civil Rights Movement is reenacted in the early scenes. Sept. 15, 1963, was Annual Youth Day at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. At 10:22 a.m., dynamite set off a tremendous explosion which destroyed a staircase and ripped a gaping hole in the brick building. Many parishioners were seriously injured. Four precious adolescent girls: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were all dressed in white and were excited to serve the congregation when the bomb blast snuffed out their young lives.
Maxine McNair was looking for her daughter when she looked up to see her father clutching a shoe in his hand. Maxine cried, “Daddy, I can’t find Denise.” Painfully, he mustered a response, “She’s dead, baby. I’ve got one of her shoes.”
One victim was remembered in a private funeral with mostly family present. The other girls were remembered together in a public service.
Dr. King spoke at the public funeral. Eight thousand attended, including eight hundred Birmingham pastors — both black and white. Not a single elected official of Birmingham attended the funeral for the slain girls. Just three weeks earlier, Dr. King had given his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. In a little more than two months, hatred would claim the life of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had spoken eloquently and forcefully on race. He declared, “If an American, because his skin is dark cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if, in short he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?”
By movie’s end, the march from Selma to Montgomery was successful. Thousands refused to be turned around. New voting rights legislation was signed into law and the Civil Rights Movement continued to move forward and upward.
Not all people of faith are found to be on the right side of any important movement. However, no important movement would succeed without people of faith. This was true of the abolitionists work in Civil War times and it was true during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Clergy and people of faith took the lead then. People of faith should continue to lead onward and upward.
As little children, we sang, “Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” He really does. He wants an integrated heaven. He wants disciples of all nations.
As Christians, we can help to carry on a great tradition. We can speak the truth in love. We can love one another as Christ has loved us. We can treat others the way we want to be treated. As the light of the world, we can work to dispel the darkness of ignorance and the sin of hatred. In Christ, we can be more than conquerors. Jesus has overcome the world, and we too shall overcome!
Ken Haskins is pastor of First Christian Church in Carson City.