There is an old African proverb that says, “When you pray, move your feet.” In the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march, many people prayed as they moved their feet. It was a time when many walked in darkness, but most walked by faith as we came to know what it meant to walk with trust in the Lord.
Scripture tells us, “If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:6-7a).
Monday, March 7, 2011, marks the 46th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” This was the first attempt of 600 civil rights leaders to march from Selma to Montgomery in the voting rights struggle for blacks. It was unsuccessful. Many marchers were brutally beaten and forced to turn back, as seen on national television.
A lot of planning happened behind the scenes. The plan by the Rev. James Bevel was sparked by the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who, in an effort to protect his mother from police brutality during a protest, was beaten to death.
In 1965, leaders from a variety of backgrounds marched abreast with the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr., John Lewis, Ralph Bunche, Ralph Abernathy, Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel and countless unnamed others. God’s children walk by faith and not by sight, as we march into history, walking toward the light and coming away from darkness, human oppression, brutality, hate and discrimination.
There was a second attempt to march on March 9, 1965. It was more symbolic, out of respect for Judge Frank M. Johnson, who had issued a restraining order. Believing Judge Johnson was sympathetic to the cause, Dr. King designed this second march to draw attention to the cause and it worked. The anticipation increased the numbers to 2,500.
But, later that day, the Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Boston, was tragically beaten to death, prompting Stokely Carmichael, spokesman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Com- mittee to say, “What you want is the nation to be upset when anybody is killed… but it almost [seems that] for this to be recognized, a white person must be killed.”
Finally, on March 21, 1965, the march from Selma to Montgomery happened, with more than 8,000 people, who prayed as they moved their feet. The marchers were mostly black, but many were white and some were Asian and Latino.
The march to Montgomery became the political and emotional turning point of the Voting Rights Movement. “Bloody Sunday” seen on television caught the attention of President Lyndon Johnson, who, on March 13, met with Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Two days later, on March 15, President Johnson presented a bill to a joint session of Congress that passed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
When we move our feet in prayer, by definition we walk in the light. When we pray and move our feet, we know we are walking in the light and trusting God to lead us. Rabbi Heschel, in his reflections on the 1965 march, wrote, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”
More recently, last week, a lot of planning happened behind the scenes in Miami as a small group of black businessmen, civic and religious leaders came together to protest the lack of minority contracts to black-owned businesses from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. With more than $15 billion spent on construction and procurements contracts by the public school system, African-American businesses got only about 4.5 percent of the dollars. One business owner, Donald James, reported that he received no contracts in 10 years. Mr. Bill Diggs, Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce president/CEO called the pattern “troubling and systemic.”
In 2011, it’s time once again to pray and move our feet in protest at the lack of economic justice for blacks in business and the lack of equal education and opportunity for all God’s children. We cannot sit by and continue to watch our tax dollars spent unfairly, starving the African American business community.
Nor can we, for that matter, let our children’s educational budgets be reduced. Across the country, public schools are in financial trouble. Why did it take a primarily white Colorado public school system getting into trouble before we began to see the pattern of injustice in all public education?
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door, 6001 NW Eighth Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or e-mail the pastor, firstname.lastname@example.org