While the World Watched (2011)

While the World Watched:
A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement, Carolyn Maull McKinstry and Denise George (2011)($9, amazon.com link)

Young Emmett Till might as well have been a dog struck by a car on the highway, its carcass left on the roadside to rot and decay, then picked up and shipped in a box back to its owner. What did this horrifying event say to me, even as a child? That black life is irrelevant, insignificant, worthless. The loss of black life is of no consequence.

Here’s a good book on the racism that occurred during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. After knowing Earl R. and his opinions on MLK being a great speaker and figure for the movement, but not an orchestrator – that role going to A. Phillip Randolph – I believe Carolyn speaks too highly of MLK Jr., and not highly enough of others. Still, she’s only doing this because from her view – like that of most of us – MLK was the leader.

I do disagree with her belief that there’s a spirituality lacking from our modern world, especially with the advent of science. [2017 thoughts: I understand better now. Some scientists do not lack this spirituality, knowing that after physics and mathematics one comes again to philosophy and spirituality, although many others do. But among the general public, what she writes is true: we lack spirit, conviction, ethics, brotherhood…]

But I agree with the bulk of the book, and that “Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.” I also like the Birmingham Pledge:

  • I believe that every person has worth as an individual.

  • I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.

  • I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.

  • Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.

  • I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.

  • I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.

  • In signing this document, people are pledging to believe in the worth of every person God created and to treat people with respect and dignity. It is also an acknowledgment that racial discrimination—every thought and every cruel action—is harmful, both to the offender and to the recipient. So basic, so simple, and yet so life honoring.

It is good to remember, from time to time, the way the spirits of many passionate and just Americans were crushed by the early events in the Civil Rights movement, and by the three high profile assassinations in five years. My generation cannot imagine it.

They close:

I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.