About forty years ago, my father left home with twenty dollars in his pocket, all we had as a family, to join in one of the great undertakings of our time.
March 22, 1965
Ed is Gone. The actual packing and leaving was much simpler than packing for a vacation, but the decision to go was months of talking; the need to go centuries in the making; and the reason for going was made real two thousand years ago.
Ed and seven others left this noon for Montgomery, Alabama. It is too soon to know what is involved in this decision, what is needed, what the outcome will be, or anything else beyond that fact that Ed is gone.
We are not asking any of your to agree with our decision to go to this spot at this time and for this cause. We only ask for the freedom to act as we feel is the responsible way to act at this particular time.
From the moment this
actionnation came into being, our fathers have fought for that right for men to live in responsible freedom. If we feel today that history has justified my great-grandfather to fight in the Revolution, the next grand-father so many generations later to fight in the Civil War, my father to be prepared to fight in World War I and my brother and Ed to enter into physical combat of World War II; then surely history will justify this same willingness to participate in today’s struggle — for the assurance of basic human rights for all people of this nation.
However, we, and I say ‘we’ because a very real part of me left in that car this morning, just as a very real part of Ed remained here,) did not decide to go because we hoped for personal or historical justification. We have watched the papers and listened to the reports of human sufferings.; we have weighed and judged the events, our values, and our faith; and we have acted as we personally knew that we had to act. The act is done and we can do nothing more than to continually act as we must.
We go knowing that you will not only disagree with our action, but will feel totally separated from us on this issue. However, we hope that we go with your love and understanding that we must act according to our decision.
The children realize that their Daddy is going “into that place where bombs are.” Randy said, “Geezzz, I’m tense.” David said, “I’m scared. Good luck, Dad.” and Suzy said, “Good Bye, Daddy.”
And I say, “Oh God–Creator, Determiner, and Judge of things–be with us all, that we may act humbly but with dignity; responsibly but without self-righteousness; determinatively but not dogmatically. Help us, we pray, to live in fullness that life which we have been given. In the name of Jesus Christ we live and pray. Amen.”
(This letter is the letter which is being sent to our families to inform them of our decision of this day.)
I was about twelve at the time. My father was the Student Minister at the First Christian Church in Ames, Iowa. (“Student” in the sense that he ministered to college students in the congregation.) Our house was, for that time and place, a hotbed of fairly radical discussion of religious, social, and political issues. When the great Civil Rights movement, led by Dr. King among others, began to take off, my parents were in the thick of it (in so far as Ames could be considered in the thick of anything). One result was The Crux, an ecumenical newsletter circulated among the students in Dad’s ministry (although as I understand it, the Church’s involvement was pretty much limited to the use of the office mimeograph machine).
Another result was my parents’ decision, as documented in this letter to our extended family and reprinted in The Crux, that Dad would go down to Selma and march with Dr. King. This was no empty gesture; at the time, it carried a serious risk of physical attack by the KKK and other racist elements, and of arrest by the local police, often themselves KKKers or sympathetic to the KKK. People died doing what Dad and his little flock did, and they went anyway.
He came back home safely, but part of the fallout of this trip, not long after, was that the Church fired him, and made a severance payment conditioned on his leaving town before the next fall semester so that he could not corrupt a new class of innocents.
I have spent my life, not in the shadow of this decision, but in its aura, in the light it shed. It has been a constant inspiration to me, and I am more proud of my parents than I can say for setting this example to me and to everyone around them.
I have spent my life hoping to see the day when a black man would take the Oath of Office and be seated in the Oval Office.
That great milestone in human affairs is now less than twelve hours away as I write. A man whose antecedents were abject slaves now readies himself to take the mightiest, most important oath of our times: to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America as our President.
I am very, very proud to be an American, and to have lived from the time of Selma to the time of Obama.
I’ve said it before, but now, I must say it again: For the rest of my life, I will hold a grudge against Barack Hussein Obama for denying me the opportunity to vote, in good conscience, for the man who has achieved that goal.
No matter what happens next, my parents’ efforts, and the achievement of their generation and Dr. King’s, turning a formerly enslaved people into full citizens, still stands, a shining beacon of bravery, liberty, and faith.
[Note: subject to factual correction by Mom and Dad. I have attempted to reproduce the letter as printed in The Crux, including the correction and typography and with the original spelling and wording.]