Friday, November 21, 2008

Unitarian minister recalls night in 1965 that changed history

The Blade featured Rev. Clark Olsen, civil rights leader, who returned to the Toledo area to give a talk this Sunday on Civil Rights at the First Unitarian Chruch.  The Blade says:

He had gone to Selma, Ala., on March 9, 1965, after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., asked U.S. clergy to join a voting rights demonstration. While African-Americans had a right to vote, election officials in some areas made it difficult - or impossible - for most of them to register.

In an emotional talk yesterday morning to about 200 students at his alma mater, Ottawa Hills High School, Mr. Clark choked back tears at times as he described how he and two fellow Unitarian ministers were attacked by three "white rowdies" from Selma who were angry at outsiders supporting African-Americans' right to register to vote.

One of the ministers, the Rev. James Reeb, 38, of Boston, died from injuries suffered in the attack, and his death led to nationwide protests and ultimately the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It was a night of terror, intimidation, and hatred, Mr. Olsen said yesterday at the high school and during an earlier interview with The Blade. On Sunday, he will speak at First Unitarian Church of Toledo.

What is interesting to me, personally, is the fact that I lived through this time.  In fact, I almost went to Selma with a group of college friends, but our transportation fell through and the trip and the experience faded away.  Yet I recall those days, that ugliness as if it were yesterday.  The scenes on TV - images of blacks being harassed, beaten, sprayed with water canons and bitten by police dogs-  are etched into my memory forever.  I was outraged that fellow humans would be treated that way just for the color of their skin.  Perhaps that experience itself set me on the course that I have followed all of my lifetime- to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, the weak, and the defenseless.

The Obama campaign mantra, 'Yes we can!' means a great deal more to black Americans than to white. They lived this racial bigotry all of their lives; they suffered the racial slurs and the closed doors and all of the other injustices that bigoted Americans threw at them.  'Yes we can!' has become an affirmation of equal justice under the law and a dream [now a reality] that a black man in America can open any door he chooses to go through.

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