As a young girl in Houston in the 60s, my exposure to racial unrest was minimal, as the kinds of events that occurred in other southern states did not happen in Texas. I recall just a couple of years ago, Rev. William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, explaining in a sermon that paralleled the civil rights struggle with the Old Testament struggle of the children of Israel, that there was some kind of negotiated agreement between local Black leaders and others of the paler national about desegregation. I do not recall demonstrations in Houston where people were assaulted with fire hoses or beaten or spat on or killed.
That is not to say there were no racial injustices; there were plenty, but not on the scale of Selma, Birmingham, Little Rock or other places. I can cite instance after instance of my own personal experiences, but this writing is about something so much larger than I; it is about all of us. Still, I have to get personal. Because observations, experiences, feelings and impressions are first personal. What one sees, takes into the mind, and filters through knowledge and past experiences, and, hopefully, objectivity, still has a tinge of "it’s personal." So the accumulation of stuff that one sees, hears and experiences day after day – the good, bad, positive, negative, indifferent, ugly, outlandish, vile, unspeakable, disrespectful, encouraging, savage and uncivilized – can be overwhelmingly depressing. And that is personal. Did you notice that the good outweighed the bad? It was so easy to think of the negative stuff. And that is depressing.
So, what does all of that have to do with weeping for the lost? I’m glad you asked. Fast-forward to the present, remembering a bit of what has happened in the past.
I do not believe in coincidence. While leaving Birmingham I took the wrong exit and found myself on the wrong freeway. Getting off at the next exit, I happened to look at my gas gauge which should I had about a quarter of a take of gas. Even a Prius can’t get very far on that, so I pulled into the first gas station I saw and filled up. Getting back on the street I began to make my way to right entrance, I observed a sign – "16th Street Baptist Church." Not yet realizing the significance of that sign, I headed toward 16th St. I cannot describe how strange this was. It was one of those funny feelings I get when something is about to happen and I have no explanation but just know the funny feeling means something. I turned right onto 16th street, drove a couple of blocks, and there it was – the 16th Street Baptist Church. I took advantage of parking on the street in front of the church and I got out of my car and look at the building, taking note of the post
As I walked up the steps that funny feeling was overwhelming. As I stood at the door of the church I knew I was looking at different doors and windows but it really hit me that this is where something painfully significant happened. This is where a house of God was attacked by people who claimed to believe in Him. This is where four young lines were destroyed and the lives of their families were changed forever.
My imagination ran wild, and in my mind’s eye I could see horror and violence — vicious dogs, men on horseback wielding clubs, others with fire hoses, people posing around bodies burned beyond recognition, hanging from trees, men behind bars whose only crime was an aspiration to be treated with basic human dignity and have the same rights as others. Tears streamed down my face, streamed freely as I stood there struggling to compose myself. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I stop crying? Part of it was deep sorrow, part was gratitude and part of it was prayer.
I grieved for the loss of life. Only the Giver of life should take it.
I grieved for those girls who would never grow up and experience the joys and sorrows of having done so.
I grieved for the families who lost their precious, priceless treasures.
I grieved for the unjustifiable hatred.
I grieved for the senseless destruction and damage to God's house
I grieved that such evil existed in the first place.
I grieved that it still does.
Even while I grieved for the past, I grieved for the present –
That decades later racism still abounds.
I grieved for the hatred that still exists and for people who want to conserve a way of life that would stifle opportunities and rights of some so they can perpetuate their false sense of superiority.
I grieved for their ignorance.
And even harder, I wept for the lost, those who now take for granted what decades ago others fought so bravely and endured so much, even death, to obtain for themselves and their progeny. Those who do not vote. Those who refuse to go to school and get an education. Those who waste opportunities to improve their quality of life. Those who refuse to take responsibility for themselves.
And being keenly aware that the sacrifices made there and in other places by people I will never know, have impacted the quality of my life. I am grateful beyond words.
And I prayed. I prayed for the peace that we still don't have.
I prayed to see that peace before I breathe my last.