Jesus Wept


Jan Morrill:

Pamela Foster’s post is honest, thoughtful and thought-provoking–as always.

Originally posted on Pamela Foster, Author and Speaker:

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Nine people were murdered in Charleston this last week. Slaughtered by a young man filled with racist hate and fear and encouraged by a tiny minority of my country’s people. The community of Charleston is responding to these murders with a grace and power that must be making Jesus weep with joy.
The rest of the country is locked in battle over a piece of cloth – a symbol of pride for some and of hatred for others. There is no flag on earth under which both atrocities and acts of courage have not been committed. Custer, and Jackson, and Calley all fought with the metaphorical winds of public opinion unfurling America’s red, white, and blue over their actions. A thousand brave men fought beside them under the same flag.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin…

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Reflections on a Symbol


First of all, I’m not a born-and-raised Southerner, so I’ll admit I’m coming from a different perspective from my friends who are. Still, I must admit I’ve been surprised at the passion, even vitriol at times, expressed in recent days about the Confederate flag.

I also admit I’ve gone back and forth on whether to write more on the matter, at least beyond what I added to a good friend’s thread on Facebook, where I was clearly in the minority. It kind of sucks the wind right out of me when I try to explain my position and nobody seems to “hear” me. Instead some fly off in their own direction, sharing their own versions of history and expounding on their fears of every other way “they” are taking over this country. Some even accuse anyone who disagrees of drinking the “Kool-Aid” of the “other side.”

But here I am, almost twelve hours and a good walk in the woods later, and I’ve decided to give it a try, though I may not hit the “Publish” button.

First of all, as I said in my comments on Facebook, everyone is entitled to their opinion, on this and every other matter. My opinion is simply that I don’t think the Confederate flag–a flag that represents racism to so many–should fly at a state capital building that represents all citizens of that state.

This does NOT mean that I think people who believe the flag represents the pride and heritage of the south shouldn’t display it. That does NOT mean that I think the government should forbid individuals from displaying the flag, nor do I believe the government has moved in that direction, though many seem to think they have.

True, some individuals and corporations have removed the Confederate flag, and that is their right to do so, just as it’s anyone’s right to no longer give those institutions more business.

Again, I’m not a Southerner, so I accept that I don’t “get” the sentiment attached to the flag. I do, however, understand the frustration expressed by those who want to fly the Confederate flag that their displaying it in no way means they are racists. My friends who want to fly the Confederate flag are NOT racists. They see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride.

Yet, I also understand how my African American friends are offended by the flag based on its history. Surely my Southern friends can understand this.

Yet, we are unable to find compromise.

I learned a few things about the Confederate flag today, and what I learned doesn’t seem to match many of the sentiments I heard expressed today.

I’ve taken the following facts from two articles:

The Confederate states went through three official flags during the four-year Civil War, but none of those three was the battle flag that’s at the center of the current controversy.

CF4The fourth flag, and the one about which there has been so much discussion, was the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s army unit, as well as several other Confederate units at the end of the war. However, when the war ended, according to CNN, “Lee distanced himself from divisive symbols of a Civil War that his side lost.”

According to the CNN article, the fourth Confederate flag turned up only occasionally between the end of the Civil War and 1948, when:

South Carolina politician Strom Thurmond ran for president under the newly founded States Rights Democratic Party, also known as the Dixiecrats. The party’s purpose was clear: “We stand for the segregation of the races,” said Article 4 of its platform.

As desegregation progressed through the decades, more and more the flag became an emblem of white supremacist groups.

These are historical facts. Surely those who want to continue to fly the Confederate flag understand why it is offensive to many. Are we simply to ignore this?

I’ve been surprised at how little recognition I’ve seen (in fact, in a few instances, I’ve seen downright denial) of the symbolism of slavery, segregation and white supremacy.

Again, I absolutely do not believe my friends who have a sentimental attachment to the Confederate flag are racists. Yet, I don’t understand how some of them seem unable to accept how many, particularly African Americans, may see anyone who flies the flag that way.

Part of the problem is that many refuse to see the “other side” and are entrenched in their own opinions and beliefs, seemingly unwilling to compromise.

I have an idea. Why not fly one of the three Confederate flags that existed BEFORE the fourth flag–the flag that is now so divisive? To my knowledge, none of those flags were used as symbols by racists.

I’d be interested to hear other ideas. So far, all I’ve seen is a bunch of name-calling and finger-pointing. We’ll never get anywhere that way.

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This Little Light


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Quilt that hangs over the altar at United Church of Santa Fe

I’m ashamed to admit I considered not going to church with my father on Father’s Day. I can weasel out a bit of an excuse–that on Saturday we’d driven ten hours from Dallas to Santa Fe and we were tired.

Fortunately, the “little voice” inside me chastised me when I woke early Sunday morning: (Or, maybe it was God.)

You know how much your dad would like to bring his daughter to church, don’t you? You’re going to regret it if you don’t go. Get your lazy self out of bed.

And so, I went to church with my dad. I’m grateful I did, not only because it was the right thing to do on Father’s Day, but because I needed to hear the sermon given by Reverend Talitha Arnold at the United Church of Santa Fe.

Reverend Arnold’s sermon was about Exodus. She told the congregation she’d planned this sermon over a month ago:

Several weeks ago, I chose the story of Moses’ experience of God in the burning bush for this Sunday for two reasons. One, like the other stories we’re exploring this summer, it’s about an ordinary person–Moses the shepherd and family man–being called by God. Two, it’s a great story for the Sunday of the summer solstice and also the week when we begin United’s solar installation in earnest. What better example of God’s gift of the sun’s energy than this story of a bush that burns, but is not consumed?

Little did she know the relevance her sermon on Exodus would hold:

Then came the attack by a young white man on African-American people gathered for Wednesday night prayer in Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston–and the Exodus text for this Sunday took on a whole new meaning. Or more accurately, it demanded a deeper remembrance.

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Before Reverend Arnold’s sermon, I didn’t know the relevance of Exodus to African Americans–to our nation:

The story of the Exodus–one of the core narratives of the faith we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers–is also central to who we are as a nation. Throughout our country’s centuries of slavery, this story of God hearing the cries of the Hebrew slaves and leading them to freedom gave hope to African-Americans enslaved by European-Americans, including the nation’s founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Bible’s story of the Exodus reminded African-Americans that God heard their cries, even in slavery. That God was not on the side of either the Southern slave masters nor of the Northerners who had help create and benefitted from the systematic dehumanization and brutalization of other human beings. Instead God was the One who knew their suffering.

But the message that I heard loudest, came in her words of what she believes we’re called to do:

For us at the United Church of Santa Fe– a predominately white congregation, thousands of miles from Charleston–what does this story from Exodus say to us, demand from us in this time? Several things, I believe. One, like Moses, we are called to turn aside from whatever else might distract us and turn our attention to what we have seen. As white Christians, we are called by our faith to pay attention and not move on to the next media event. Two, like Moses, we are called to respond: “Here I am.” Three, as God called Moses, God calls us to hear what God hears and see what God sees–the misery of God’s people, the cries of those who suffer. Four, like Moses–a Hebrew man raised in Pharaoh’s court– we are called to see such suffering not as an isolated event that just “happened” at a church in Charleston but as part of the history of racial violence in our country. Finally, like Moses, we are called to respond to that suffering and to that violence.

This was the message I needed to hear–a message that gave me courage to speak. I’ve begun several blog posts over the last year about race-based events that have filled the news. In most cases, I’ve “chickened-out,” mostly afraid of offending one or both “sides” by saying something that is not “politically correct.”

And yet, it is that very silence from so many of us that worsens the problem of race relations in our country.

During Sunday’s sermon, this is the voice I heard in my head:

Look at you, critical of mainstream Muslims not speaking up against radical Islamists, yet you’re afraid to speak up against racism.

I must not let my fear-driven silence be taken for lack of concern, or even worse, concordance with the awful things that have happened in our recent and past history.

So, here are some of my thoughts:

  • Though I believe racism still exists in this country, I do not believe we are a racist nation. Instead, I think it’s ensconced in the outskirts of our society and it’s implicitly allowed to exist by our silence.
  • We all have our prejudices, not only based on race, but also, politics, social class, sexual orientation, etc. I think these prejudices are born of our ignorance of persons or groups different from us, and it’s made worse by our lack of communication. However, though still destructive, prejudice is not the same as racism.
  • The media does a lot to inflame racial tensions and very little to open rational, respectful dialogue between races.
  • I believe the Confederate flag should come down from the Statehouse in Columbia, SC. True, to many it represents Southern pride and is a symbol of remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. But there are many flags in American history that were flown during war time. They do not also represent racism and segregation, and they do not need to be flown for us to remember our veterans. In NPR’s article, “The Complicated Political History of the Confederate Flag,” Jessica Taylor states:

After the war ended, the symbol became a source of Southern pride and heritage, as well as a remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. But as racism and segregation gripped the nation in the century following, it became a divisive and violent emblem of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups. It was also the symbol of the States’ Rights Democratic Party, or “Dixiecrats,” that formed in 1948 to oppose civil-rights platforms of the Democratic Party.

Take the flag down.

On Sunday, the congregation sang a song I haven’t sung since I was a child attending Sunday school:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

As best I can, I’ll let my light shine. I’ll speak out, speak my truth. It’s time we all do.

We obviously have a problem with race in our country, but that does not mean we’re a racist nation. There are many like me who want understanding between our cultures, who see us as human, not colored humans, but human. This doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, even prejudices. But our fear of talking about it takes us farther and farther apart from each other.

My prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who were killed in Charleston. As Reverend Arnold said, “We are called to see such suffering not as an isolated event that just ‘happened’ at a church in Charleston…”

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Circle of Life


WalkerA few days ago, my sister asked me what I thought about sending my mother’s walker to a woman named “Itty,” who we met while visiting our Uncle Fizzer in Cleveland. (Our mother passed away in February.)

I thought it was a wonderful idea. Itty’s walker is very old, and she struggles with a variety of problems associated with it.

The next thing I thought about was the circle of life. Here’s why:

My uncle introduced me to Itty in September 2013, after I flew to Cleveland to speak about The Red Kimono to a group of his Japanese friends, many of whom were former internees.

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Jan and Itty

At that time, Itty told me she’d known my mother when she used to sing at nightclubs in Cleveland. Itty was my mother’s seamstress. I was amazed to meet someone who had known my mom so long ago, and loved hearing stories from her past.

Uncle Fizzer is on the left. My mother is in the white dress in the center. Next is my Auntie Sue and Uncle Randy--another of my mother's six brothers.

Uncle Fizzer is on the left. My mother is in the white dress in the center. Next is my Auntie Sue and her husband, Uncle Randy–another of my mother’s six brothers.

This would have been approximately 1955. My mom would have been twenty-years old–three years before I was born. Here’s a photograph, taken around that time period.

In March, when my uncle became ill, my sister returned to Cleveland to be with him until he passed away. While she was there, she asked Itty to tell the story again, and this time, she recorded it.

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In the video, Itty briefly mentions The Alpine Village Nightclub. I googled it, and found a few photos. It’s fun to imagine my mother singing there. What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of her beautiful voice.

So here’s the “circle” as I see it. Sixty years ago, Itty helped my mother by sewing beautiful evening gowns for her to wear in her performances. Today, my sister will send her my mother’s walker, which will help Itty.

Sixty years ago, my mom sang in a gown sewn by Itty, and Itty sat in the audience and listened. I’m sure neither could have imagined then that one day, my mother would give her walker to Itty.

I imagine my mom smiling at the thought.

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Graduation Day–57 Years Ago


ErnestGreen3_fToday marks the 57th anniversary of Little Rock Central High School‘s graduation ceremony for the Class of 1958. It’s a shame that it might pass unnoticed by some, as it might have for me had I not been doing research for Broken Dreams, the working title for my sequel to The Red Kimono.

What made May 29, 1958 special? It was the day Ernest Green walked across the stage for his diploma in front  of a stadium filled mostly with whites. What makes Ernest Green special? He was one of the Little Rock Nine, and the first African-American to graduate from the previously segregated Little Rock Central High School.

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In my research I’ve found several interesting facts I didn’t know about the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School and other civil rights activities, most of which made me ask myself if I could be so brave.

Excerpt from Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965, by Juan Williams:

The mostly white audience applauded enthusiastically as one by one the students came up to receive their diplomas. Then came Ernest Green’s moment. “When they called my name, there was nothing,” he said, “just the name, and then there was eerie silence. Nobody clapped. But I figured they didn’t have to…because after I got that diploma, that was it. I had accomplished what I had come there for.”

I also recently read that Martin Luther King Jr. attended the graduation ceremony.

I incorporated much of this information into a scene that is a pivotal turning point for Sachi, who is 24 years old in the sequel.

Here’s an excerpt from that scene:

As the sun set behind the stadium, the warm humidity of the day turned damp and cool. Sachi buttoned her sweater as she watched the long procession of graduates begin to cross the stage.

Adams, Anderson, Avery…Baker, Bevins, Brown… Cheers came in waves through the audience, led by family and friends of each graduate. Carver, Cassidy, Clayton…Davis, Decker, Draper…More whistles and cheers. Eckhardt, Edwards, Evans…Fenton, Flanders, Franks…Sachi sat up straight, excited to see history made.

Gavin, Gotwals . . . more cheering. Sachi prepared to cheer for the only person she’d come to see.

“Ernest Green.”

She stood to clap, but Terrence grabbed her arm and pulled her down. Silence shuddered through the night and she felt a thousand eyes upon her, even as she watched Ernest Green cross the stage, head held high as he accepted his diploma and became the first Negro to graduate from Little Rock Central High School.

She glanced across the bleacher to where his mother sat watching, as if she and her son were the only two people in the world.

The cheering resumed with the call of the next name, and Sachi again felt the loneliness of being in a group of those not wanted. The only comfort she found was in the congratulations being whispered up and down the row of Negros with whom she sat.

The rest of the ceremony dragged on, from H through Z. She only clapped because everyone else in her row clapped, perhaps to be polite. Perhaps because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t.

When at last the graduates sang “On Tigers!” and tossed their caps into the air, Sachi had never been so happy for an event to be over.

As they turned to leave, Terrence touched her arm. “Sachi, Jubie, wait. There’s someone else I’d like you to meet before we leave.”

Sachi turned around. The man who had been sitting next to Daisy was standing next to Terrence.

“Sachi, Jubie, this is Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King, these are my friends, Sachi Clark and Jubie Franklin.”

Dr. King extended his hand, first to Jubie, then to Sachi.

Jubie’s eyes widened with each word she spoke. “Sure is nice to meet you, Dr. King. I’ve read a lot about you.”

As Sachi shook his hand, she could hardly believe this man—the man she’d thought was Daisy Bates’ husband—was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Recalling what she’d read about his involvement with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, she chastised herself for thinking she’d seen him at a grocery story.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Dr. King.”

Though her mind filled with a dozen thoughts, it was all she had time to say to Dr. King before, like a small pebble in a rushing stream, she was pushed with the flow of people headed out of the stadium.

As she drifted in the current of whites and coloreds, she thought again about where she fit in. Was she “white?” Or was she “colored?” She’d gotten “the look” plenty of times for sitting in the front of a bus. And in the silence that came with the announcement of Ernest Green’s name, more than ever, she felt“colored.”

How might her life might have been different if Japanese Americans had protested their internment? Instead, they went along with what the government ordered, believing it was their duty as loyal American citizens. What if they had stood up for their rights? What if they’d had their own Dr. King?

She was tired of wondering if she could be as brave as Ernest Green and the other eight Negro students. Tired of admiring people like Daisy Bates and Dr. King. Admiration wasn’t going to get anyone anywhere. It was time for her to stand up to Nobu. Time for her to join Terrence. Time for her to finally remove her mask.

# # #

I think it’s important to remember historic events and where possible, to put ourselves in the places of the people who lived this history. I’ve done this as I’ve read about this era, and as I said, I’ve asked myself:

Could I have been so brave?

Probably not. But, as Sachi realizes in the excerpt above, nothing would have changed without the courage shown by those involved.

NOTE: Based my research, I’ve done my best to capture this event as realistically as possible, so that hopefully I can “put the reader there.”

However, I’m still in the draft stage. So, if you’re familiar with Little Rock Central High School or this era and catch any glaring errors, I’d be most grateful if you’d point them out!

 

 

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