1955 and 2020

Over time when visiting Montgomery, Alabama we’ve been able to visit different significant spots regarding Civil Rights history.

One we regularly visit is not the place itself, but where the business is located. We always frequent Prevail Coffee when in Montgomery because their coffee is great, but it’s also built on the site of the old Kress Department Store, where Rosa Parks worked. Just down the block is a statue of Parks representing the place where she got on the bus that day in 1955 and refused to move back a few blocks later when the driver ordered her to do so.

We recently visited the Rosa Parks Museum, built on the spot where she was arrested. The museum revisits the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I also walked around the building where Prevail is housed and found a spot where the builders had put some displays from the old Kress Department Store. It was two huge slabs where “Colored” and “White” drinking fountains had once stood. “Colored” and “White” are etched into the marble slabs.

Why is it we have this history… and we find ourselves REPEATING this same history?

No, it’s not the “same” as blatant segregation, but it is in our attitudes. As I walked through the displays in the Parks museum, there was the telling of the Boycott and how the mayor of Montgomery tried to bust it up. And once again I was reminded how we just don’t learn from history.

The mayor called the boycott group “radicals.” They were labeled as “Communists.” Today? I hear people throw around words like “Marxist” and “socialist” just to cause division between what is going on in the protests. Then, there is the movement in wording today from “protestors” to “rioters” so we feel better about using brute force to stop what makes us uncomfortable.

The mayor of Montgomery declared that those radicals were out to destroy the social fabric of our nation. Sound familiar? Tearing down Confederate monuments today is called “erasing history.” The president wants $5 billion to make sure “our American heritage” is told “correctly.” (Read: told “WHITE.”)

I read these things and take them in and something begins to happen: rage fills my spirit.

This brought me back around to Dennis Edwards’ book, Might from the Margins. He has a chapter on anger. The typical line for an evangelical is to discourage showing emotions of fear, anger, doubt, etc. We have to be UPBEAT all the time!

But anger has use. However, when whites are the one in power and privilege, it’s easy to call those trying to raise their voice “radical” or “shrill” or “angry” and dismiss it.

Edwards reminds us, “When we are confronted with evil, anger is among the range of appropriate reactions.” (p. 92) We must make room for visceral responses.

So, why are we still in the same place in 2020 as 1955? We are still, as whites, disregarding the black witness of what is going on in our culture. We are still, as whites, not admitting to systemic issues. We are still, as whites, showing that no form of protest is acceptable if it interrupts our day, our comfort, or our football game.

“White people — especially evangelicals — have the luxury of turning a deaf ear to anyone they perceive as angry.” (p. 94)

As I took in the Rosa Parks Museum, and stared at those marble slabs with “Colored” and “White” etched in them, I felt rage. It boils in me. Our white laziness causes righteous anger to seethe deep in my spirit.

I want to feel, as Edwards points out in his book, the anger of Jesus. When Jesus looked at a man in need of healing and the self-righteous leaders of his day staring at Jesus, wondering if he was going to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus felt anger.

This is the anger I want to be feeling right now. I am tired of 2020 looking like 1955 or 1968. I am angry that is looks that way all too often.

Edwards calls on believers of color to allow anger to fuel them. He uses this powerful quote from James Cone:

“Your anger is how theology begins. It starts with anger about a great contradiction that can’t be ignored.” (p. 105)

Friends… it’s way past time to get angry.

Marble slabs from the wall of the Kress Deparment Store in Montgomery, Alabama. It was where water fountains once hung.

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