Living Legacy Day 4: February 14, 2009

Are You Ready for This Rock?

By Gini Courter with Annette Marquis, Rev. Charlotte Cowtan, Rev. Hope Johnson, Janice Marie Johnson

Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage: Selma, Alabama

This morning we toured Selma, Alabama. Joanne Bland, co-founder and past director of the National Voting Rights Museum, led us.

We walked down the street to the site where three Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers—Clark Olsen, Orloff Miller, and James Reeb—were attacked en route from dinner to Brown Chapel, where they were headed to hear Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s instructions for the next day. The ministers could have turned left leaving the café to return the way they had arrived, but they thought it would be faster to turn right. The shortcut proved deadly.

College students had painted a memorial mural on the side of a nearby building to commemorate the event; later, we gathered around a memorial plaque for James Reeb as Clark Olsen spoke about the attack and its aftermath.

We were driven to Brown Chapel, and arrived at the same time as members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motor Cycle Club, who were on their civil rights pilgrimage. Neighborhood children looked on with amazement and pride as over a hundred African Americans regally dismounted their Harley hogs and Honda Gold Wings and crossed to Brown Chapel Church AME.

We followed Joanne Bland around the church to a concrete slab: “Stand on the slab—not up there on that new stuff, down here on the slab,” she told us. Joanne directed us to each find a rock, and a treasure hunt ensued as we discarded shards of broken glass (“That’s not a rock!”) in search of small pebbles knocked free from the concrete. She looked at the tiny rock that Bill Sinkford held (“Mr. President, show me that rock”) and weaved a story of her grandmother. Janne Eller-Isaacs’ rock magically brought forth Joanne’s sister’s story. Hannah Eller-Isaacs’ rock prompted Joanne to ask: “Are you ready for this rock? This is my rock.”

Then came the challenge: we could leave our rocks there on the slab, or we could each take our rock, but we could not take them lightly. If we chose to take the rock, we had to commit to stay in the work, and hold on to the rock as part of our reason—to let the rock anchor us in hard times.

As we walked away, Joanne laughed, “I’m going to have to get more rocks. I know none of you are going to leave yours.” As it turned out, she was right.

All the authors are participating in the Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage. A version of this story appears on Gini Courter's blog, "Just Gini."

Joanne Bland, Bill Sinkford, and Clark Olson in Selma, AL.

Joanne Bland talks with Rev. Bill Sinkford and Rev. Clark Olson at Brown Chapel in Selma.
Hannah Eller-Isaacs.

Hannah Eller-Isaacs, one of the young adults participating on the pilgrimage.