Reportage

The Hardest Lesson to Teach

The Ferguson shooting in perspective…

4_little_girls_82177765_c0f29c3dc9_oFifty one years ago on a September Sunday morning in Birmingham, Alabama the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed by white supremacists killing four young black girls whilst marking a new and disgusting low in race relations in the United States. If any good can come from the death of a child then the ensuing public outrage which pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is as much as one can glean from such a tragedy.

As news footage comes out from the rioting in Ferguson, Missouri following the decision not to prosecute a police officer for shooting dead an unarmed black man my thoughts turn to those protests in the early sixties. The crux of the protests in 2014 are not new, there continues to be a wide-spread belief that a black person’s life does not hold the same value as that of a white one and in 1963 the church people of Alabama must have believed their loss would be the tipping point. It wasn’t.

The church was bombed because Martin Luther King along with Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abbernathy and other civil rights leaders used the premises as a campaign headquarters. Whatever the strength of King’s convictions might have been he must have known he would never address the American people as their president but in 2014 Barack Obama has stood at the podium and acknowledged the black person’s enduring distrust of the state police.

The continued abuse of power by law enforcement officers under Obama’s watch signals a fundamental failure in the hopes of millions who never thought they would see a black president. There are two sides to every story and young black men must take their share of the responsibility but the lack of career choice and a failing justice system offers them little hope of a way out.  What, I wonder would Dr King make of today’s events? In reality the focus is on the protestors and the damage caused by the few whilst ignoring the fundamental thrust of the argument and tens of thousands spew out vaccuous quotes from ‘I have a dream’ on social media feeds believing that is enough.

The Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall:

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”
“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”
She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”

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