Hello First UUers,
Sitting here in my hotel room just before the opening of Ministry Days that precede the UUA General Assembly, I am struck by the news that another person has been identified in the beating death of UU minister, the Rev. James Reeb. Three people were arrested and later acquitted by an all-white jury in the Civil Rights era murder of Reeb that also injured two other ministers as they walked together on the streets of Selma, AL in 1965. Reeb’s death drew national attention (partly because a white minister from Boston had been murdered in the Deep South working for justice) and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed Jim Crow voter discrimination against African-Americans.
According to the NPR report, the case remains unsolved. Their investigation unveiled a confession from William Portwood and an admission from eye-witness Frances Bowden that in fact, she did know the attackers – all of them, not just the three officially charged. Portwood later admitted that he “was more than there”. But minimized his participation by saying, “All I did was kick one of them.” The FBI has a mandate to investigate cold cases from the Civil Rights Era, but refused to pursue this one further as the statute of limitations on lying had expired and the murder and beatings did not include bombs, kidnapping, or cross state lines.
I wonder about the expiration on hate itself, whether it be deceit by witnesses, acquittal by a probable white supremist jury, or actual violence. Does hate ever let the offender off the hook? Certainly, the harm caused is long-lasting and sometimes permanent. It can also go far-beyond single acts. In this case, it prompted the long-overdue passage of legislation that benefited many, but the private hell of the victim’s families is overlooked, as is the long-suffering of those who endured brutal injustice for decades and centuries. Hatred still seems to grab the headlines and make for political hay.
But I also wonder about how I perpetuate a culture that tacitly gives permission to hate. Am I, even if indirectly, responsible for enforcing a system of laws and practices that hurt others? Could it have me on that jury back then or even today? It is always easier to go along with what ‘seems right’ because it is ‘how things are’. I don’t think I could have kicked anyone but does my inaction have the same results? Maybe not murder, but certainly keeping discrimination and all its harm in place. Would I lie to protect my friends, covering up heinous deeds born of hatred?
Rev. Reeb would have been sitting here with us at Ministry Days if he had lived long enough (he’d be quite old now but we do have active colleagues who worked with him in Selma). What in his heart caused him and dozens of other UU ministers and lay people to answer to call to come to Selma? Despite whatever life Portwood and Bowden lived post-Civil Rights era, their legacies include hate against fellow human beings. On the other hand, Reeb’s legacy, etched in stone far too early, was one of love and compassion for those he didn’t even know.
What legacy will I leave? What is your legacy? What is our legacy together?
Blessings with love at the center,
P.S. I look forward to reporting to you all the happenings at General Assembly which opens on Wednesday. Stay tuned!
Gratitudes and more…
Thank you to all who made signs, decorated the float, and either rode, walked, or cheered us on as we participated in the nation’s 3rdlargest PRIDE parade.
END-of-CHURCH-YEAR: Pledges due
June 30 is the end of our fiscal year. Thank you in advance for paying your pledge in full before then.Your support matters in all of our endeavors to help build a better world, community, and church where we can all live, learn, and love.