It started by marking the killing of Medgar Evers, then revisiting the March on Washington. I also went to see The Butler and last night, I watched a PBS special on the music of the Civil Rights movement. I, (along with many of you) relived a fifty-year-old decade last week.
There was a lot going on in the Sixties. Dreams ignited everywhere and movements formed around those dreams. Sometimes the dreams collided with each other.
When the media tells the story, it is about just one aspect. In reality, there was a magnificent pattern happening. As I run the newsreel in my mind, I see a great flowing river of historical change. It is like watching the old ideas slip off the cliff and new ideas rise toward the limitless sky.
Social class slid down. Color blended. Conformity died. Change exploded fast and loud. It was the Sixties. I was a part of it and I have never been the same. Neither has the nation. Dr. Raymond Charles Barker tells us that a consciousness, once stretched, never returns to its original shape.
The Sixties were a visible, rebirth of ideas. Other movements sprouted in the wake of the Civil Rights decade; the women’s movement, the anti-war movement, and the gay rights movement all began in that decade. We wanted it all and it was confusing.
We are still a long way from having it all, but we haven’t returned to the original shape either. No matter how much our legislative dinosaurs struggle to erase progress, freedom will not be stopped. The cat is out of the bag. The fat lady sings.
The Sixties were a great moral victory for all of us. Afro-Americans deserve to be singled out, acknowledged and celebrated. Their unique story captures our hearts and demonstrates our best. Now we must connect the dots and see that poverty, easy guns, unjust laws, unequal sentences, and poor education are more than an just an incomplete picture. They are seeds of despair we do not want to see sprout. There is much more to do.
The Sixties featured a decade of young people in an inspiring reach toward freedom. It was also a decade of faith, courage, and connection. TV was a powerful new medium and so we all witnessed a great moral struggle. We saw that the black hats were on the white guys heads and vice versa. Clearly. We saw that Love says yes. Fear says not-so-fast.
I was 30 and I thought I knew things. I’d heard the facts and read my history. I listened to gospel and folk music. I’d even attended an interracial camp when I was 15. Bayard Rustin taught me protest songs. I had black colleagues who were friends.
I knew nothing. It was terrible to see those young men and women huddled to protect themselves while the police terrorized them. I’d long ago lost my Christian faith but I could see they were believers. I knew I couldn’t put my life on the line. Those kids shamed me.
TV cameras were magic then. We weren’t used to watching war while we ate supper. TV hastened change and stole our innocence.
It took us time to learn that the cameras couldn’t tell the whole story. Today, as I watch events, I am more sophisticated. I know I see the tip of the iceberg. I know my channel leans left and someone else’s leans right. In those days, I was only suspected I was witnessing the great rebirthing of iealism. The women’s movement, the anti-war movement, the gay rights movement, and the civil rights movement were all part of my daily news. They all called for more freedom to exercise life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The loving connection between the young people who risked their lives was the distinguishing aspect of the early Civil Rights Movement. It was obvious those kids were living their Christian lessons they’d learned in their churches. They were willing to turn the other cheek. They inspired white kids to join the movement. That brought more TV cameras.
We watched kids stand together and sing as they were beaten, then led off to jail. Many adults did not even have courage to watch anymore. As a nation, we were shamed into changing.
Certainly, the civil rights of the Sixties was based on Christianity and the faith was impressive. Not all the ideas came straight from the Bible, however. Many depended on the Transcendentalists who were our adopted ancestors. Our founder, Dr Ernest Holmes, was very inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other Transcendentalists, including Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Walt Whitman, can also claim a piece of the Sixties uprisings.
It was Emerson’s 1863 essay, Nature that set off our quest for self-reliance, self-trust, and the certainty that God is present everywhere. His essays Self-Reliance, The OverSoul and other topics presented influential ideas for modern theologians and everyone else.
Emerson’s friend, Henry David Thoreau wrote his1846 Essay of Civil Disobedience in a Concord, MA jail. Thoreau’s belief that an individual’s personal conscience was more important than civil law was exported to India where Ghandi adopted it as a rationale for fighting against Colonial rule. Thoreau influenced Ghandi and Ghandi influenced Dr. Martin Luther King. It was a circle of enlightenment and Civil Rights was an uniquely American movement.
All the freedom movements of that era had roots in Emersonian values of self-reliance, self-trust, equality and dreams of a classless society. If you are a follower of New Thought, you are connected to the greatest minds and ideas the USA ever produced. Those ideas are alive and well today.
I am certain that if Thoreau was reincarnated into the Sixties, he was writing another manifesto from jail. Margaret Fuller certainly would have burned her corset and Walt Whitman would have been reading his poetry at the Stonewall Inn during the first gay resistance in 1969..
When we think of the 1960’s, we think of social action and breaking down the old society. However, not all young Americans were sitting around San Francisco smoking dope. Nor were they all in Southern jails.
Many of them were reading, learning, believing and teaching ideas of self-reliance, inner guidance, and trusting yourself. The Bible was important to Civil Rights. Emerson and other the other Transcendentalists were also important. It took a lot of history to create a unique decade like that one.
Those freedom dreams of the Sixties are still pushing us. Yes, we have a black president. Yes, we have come a long way. Yes, there are some promises that are not yet realized. Yes, the dream is alive and well. Say Yes!
Do I feel free?
What would I need to believe to feel free?
What steps might I take toward the dream?
Do I feel connected?
What would I need to believe to feel connected?
What steps might I take?