Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Land of My Birth

Going Home, a course offered by New York Theological Seminary every spring, is led by Dr. Eleanor Moody-Shepherd and Dr. Peter Heltzel.  This is a reflection of Dr. Eleanor Moody-Sherpherd's visit to Alabama, her place of birth.

After fifty years, I can analyze my feeling toward the land of my birth. I realize that I have harbored a love/hate relationship with this state in the heart of Dixie.  This land of my birth is located south of the Mason Dixie line in the center of the state of Alabama. I grew up during the turbulent period between World War II and the Korean Conflict.  It  filled me with the impetus to be part of the wind of change that was on the horizon....

The sense of anticipation struggled to overcome the life long reality of internalized fear─ fear for my life in a highly racialized society.  The first seventeen years of my life was characterized by racial oppression and abuse within a Jim Crow system that permeated every aspect of daily life. Every aspect is perhaps an over statement. The Black Church was the one community organization where blacks were nurtured and empowered.

In her book Your Spirits Walk Beside Us, Barbara Dianne Savage describes the relationship between African American religion and political struggle as poignantly and inextricably intertwined. She posits that the emergence in the late 1950’s of a Southern Civil Rights Movement with churches, church people, and church culture at the center was a powerful and startling departure from that story, rather than a normal progression. In many ways, the movement is best thought of not as an inevitable triumph or a movement of religious revival, but simply as a miracle. It was brief, bold, and breathtaking, difficult to replicate or sustain, and experience first hand by only a small remnant of true believers.

I am one of the small remnants of true believers who participated in the historic student sit-ins at Alabama State Teachers College (Alabama State University) in 1960. These sit-ins owed their success to the collaboration of the students in the academy, the church and the courts. The action of this coalition won students due process in education systems throughout the United States.(See Saint John Dixon vs Alabama) .

On February 25, 2010 The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University honored a remnant of the Student Sit-in Movement participants at A One Day Conference celebrating the 50th Anniversary. During this celebration I realized the wisdom of my mentor and leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said,  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Dr. Eleanor Moody-Shepherd is Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, and Professor of Women Studies at New York Theological Seminary.

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