how things circle back…

10 Oct

This morning started with a trip to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL. This powerful monument, created by Maya Lin (creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC), has the names of 40 people (black and white) who were killed from 1955 to 1968 in the South in civil rights related murders.

While we were there, Morris Dees came and spoke to us about the important work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the different efforts they are focusing on right now. One that he mentioned was the school-to-prison-pipeline. Remember that, because I will come back to it.

Three of the names on the Memorial are James Chaney, a black Meridian, MI native, Mickey Schwerner, a white CORE field secretary, and Andrew Goodman, a white college student participating in Freedom Summer. On June 20, 1964, these three young men were murdered by the Klan in Meridian, Mississippi. Their bodies were placed in an earthen dam (and when the river was dragged and their bodies found, 9 more bodies were also found) and not found for 6 weeks.

The white people in town closed ranks on their own and so no justice was found for many, many years. Even now, not all those who are suspected to have participated have been tried. The tragic story is the subject of a documentary: Neshoba, which we watched in the bus on the way up to Meridian.

Later in the day, we stopped at James Chaney’s gravesite. The tombstone is secured with reinforced steel and is still regularly vandalized.

James Chaney left behind a daughter, less than 2 weeks old, whom he had not yet seen. Angela met us at his gravesite to talk about her father and her own life. Her mother did not tell her about her father until Angela was in junior high. It was quite a revalation.

Angela takes after her father: she tries to help people. She is in a caring profession. Her husband is a police officer. She has a large, loving family.

One of the issues that her husband has been involved in is the school-to-prison-pipeline. He saw it happening at Meridian: students who committed even slight offenses were being arrested and sent to jail. Yes, you read that right: students, juveniles, were being arrested, taken from school, and put in jail. And mistreated. For offenses like uniform infractions, or cursing.

You can read more about it here.

Angela’s husband saw that it was primarily black students who he got called to take to jail. He complained to the school principals, and even to the school superintendent. He was ignored. Now the Department of Justice is on the case.

Angela takes comfort in a song she learned growing up: “If I can help someone in my travels, then my living will not have been in vain.” She tries to live by that herself, and her husband does. And her father did.

But don’t be tempted to think the work is over. It is far from done, as Meridian continues to teach us.

2 Responses to “how things circle back…”

  1. amberb1028 October 11, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I had the honor of visiting the Southern Poverty Law Center over the summer. The day we were there, the water on the memorial had been turned off for maintenance purposes. It allowed us to run our hands across the names and for Harper to explore the memorial with her little hands and feet. Very powerful experience there, especially with the Wall of Tolerance at the end of the exhibit. How can you be anything but hopeful after seeing that wall full of names.

    Thank you again Dawn for continuing to share your thoughts along this journey. You’ve raised so many things for us all to think about.

  2. Annette Marquis October 11, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Reblogged this on Living Legacy Pilgrimage Reflections.

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