Yo, U.S.A., You Late!

Winter and the Future Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: Mountain View Waste. Kate’s good humor. Rigel following the treat to bed. Cool weather. The waning crescent moon. All the stars in the sky. All the water in the ocean. The water cycle. The lakes of Minnesota. The mountains of Colorado.

Didn’t write about MLK.

When Joseph got his bars as a second Lieutenant, I drove down to Maxwell AFB to be there. Maxwell is outside Montgomery, Alabama.

I made three pilgrimages on that trip. The first to Dexter Baptist Church, only steps away from the Alabama State Capitol. In his 1963 inaugural address in that Capitol then governor George Wallace said, “…segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

MLK was the pastor at the Dexter Baptist Church, 1954-1960, and organized the Mongtomery Bus Boycott in the basement. To have done that with the state government of Alabama literally looking over you must have been a courageous act for all who participated.

The second stop on my pilgrimage was the Southern Poverty Law Center which has a building just behind and uphill from Dexter Baptist Church. Outside of the modest modern headquarters is a Maya Lin designed Civil Rights Memorial. A large sheet of black marble, top of a sliced in half cone, has engraved on it names of martyrs for the civil rights movement and a chronology of the movement. A sheet of water flows across it all, coming from a fountain in the middle.

In her minimalist style, the other primary part of the sculpture is a black marble wall that has on it MLK’s paraphrase of Amos 5:24: (We will not be satisfied)…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

These two American institutions, Dexter Baptist and the Southern Poverty Law Center, were and are pillars of fire illuminating racism and burning it out where they can. It surprised to me feel so close to American radical justice while able to see the bright white colonnade of the Alabama capitol.

The third stop on my pilgrimage came after I left Montgomery. I went to Selma. Crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On that bridge, on March 7, 1965, MLK and many, many others encountered state police and city police, hidden on the east by the upward curve of the bridge. Bloody Sunday showed up on television screens across America and helped cement support for the civil rights movement.

In research for a novel I’m currently writing I looked up Edmund Pettus. Not only was he a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and a U.S. Senator, Pettus was also the Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK.

When I parked in downtown Selma to walk around… Nah, here’s what I said on June 19th, 2008:

“Yo, Minnesota!  You late.”  Said, on the high sidewalk in Selma, an African man of indeterminate middle age, salt and pepper beard, hair frizzed out, wearing a red shirt.  “”bout time you got down South, North.”

“Yeah, about 30 years too late,” I said, revealing my inner hope that I’m about 15 younger than I really am.

He was cheerful and continued his discussion with a smile and allusions to the Mennonites and some biblical tribes, but I didn’t get it all.  He was what in former times would have been called a character.

When you consider Charlottesburg, when you consider Monday in Richmond, when you consider the anti-immgration policies, when David Duke says, “He’s implementing our policies.”, when a close Presidential advisor admits to his white supremacy convictions, then, why then, we might say to the whole country, “Yo, U.S.A., you late.”