I recently saw a few movies that inspired me to love in a way that I have not previously had to love.
The first was The Butler, where it reviews the history of African Americans from just after slavery until today and takes us through the life of a man who lived as a boy in the abusive south on a cotton plantation and was alive to see Obama inaugurated. His generation is the last of those who are still alive today who could have had the experience of being born to people who were slaves on a plantation. In the story it showed some of the experiences of those who were the Freedom Riders in the 1960’s.
I knew of the atrocities that took place, I knew of the abuses that the people who were determined to ride on non-segregated buses together to make change endured, but what I had never before really thought of were the experiences of the white people who road and marched and were beaten and spit on and murdered alongside the black people whom they fought for.
I wondered what makes a person decide to trade comfort and a normal life to endure adversity and hardship and even face death to fight for an equality that they already had, and simply desired for someone else. What would make a person do such a thing?
I then, in the same week, saw the movie of the book to Kill a Mockingbird, which is told from the perspective of a little girl who was white and raised in the south during the time when blacks were free from slavery, but hated and severely mistreated and discriminated against. The book shows a window into the normalcy of living amongst discrimination as a child, that does not necessarily impact you directly and what that looks like. It would be easy to just do nothing about the injustices around you and to not even see them as such when it is the status quo. It would be normal to just live and do nothing and who could blame one for just minding their own business? But in the story, the girl’s father is faced with a decision to defend a black man for rape, and against a lot of opposition and threats, he decides to do what he believes is right and defend the man, putting not only his safety, but the safety of his own family at risk. His integrity would not allow him to do any less than what he believed in his heart was the right thing to do no matter the cost. What would make a person do such a thing?
What would make a person interrupt the comfort of their lives to see to it that others can live free?
I understand why black people would be involved in the civil rights movement because we would be fighting for ourselves and if not our own equality, for that of our children and their children, but what makes a person enter the hated side of a world of danger and grave injustice and fight until the death for another’s freedoms? What other than love?
Before now, I had never considered the grand capacity to love that must be in the heart of people who would do such a brave, compassionate and selfless thing.
Dr. King was a great man who understood and taught an aspect of love that is hard even to comprehend. He said that you cannot drive out darkness with darkness but rather only with light and it is the light of his non-violence movement to love his white brothers and everyone equally despite how he was treated, that shed light on how unjust racism is and convicted the hearts of men and women who would not have otherwise been moved to change, People were changed when they saw innocent people enduring such abuse and not returning evil for evil but rather humbly returning good for evil.
But what has recently boggled my mind even more is the love that the white freedom riders had, who were beaten and killed to give to their black brothers and sisters an equality that they themselves already had.
Today I honor those who were not African American who fought and even died for the civil rights of all.
Killed in Mississippi in 1964 for fighting for the rights of blacks to vote: