A Life Dedicated to Shining for Racial Justice
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]
As we prepare for the UMW Assembly in a few weeks, we are considering what it means to "Shine." I am reminded of the song, "They will know we are Christians by our love." Paul describes this love eloquently in 1 Corinthians, but "shining" and showing God's love in the world, a love that "rejoices with the truth," is not always an easy or safe road to take, even though it brings great rewards.
This month we celebrate the life and mourn the death of a great Civil Rights activist, Anne Braden, who died in Louisville, Ken., on March 6 at the age of 81. Anne made a life-long commitment to the struggle for racial justice in our country, as a courageous white anti-racist woman. In 1954, she and her husband Carl became renowned for their decision to purchase and resell a home in a suburban white neighborhood to a Black couple, the Wades, who were their friends. This brought on the wrath of white supremacists who threatened both couples. The Wade's home was the target of rocks, a cross burning, shots fired, and a dynamite blast. Braden and her husband were ostracized by many in the white community and received hate mail and threats. As public radicals during the McCarthy era they were called communists, and even indicted for sedition, or, in their case, disloyalty to the State of Kentucky. Carl spent seven months in jail.
Anne, a journalist with three young children at the time, wrote a book about the experience and began traveling to speak up about both civil rights and civil liberties. Braden and her husband joined the struggle for Black rights. In his famous "Letter from Birmingham," Martin Luther King, Jr., thanked her for her actions. After her husband's death in 1975, she continued her activism, including working for peace and equal rights for women. She was a delegate for Jesse Jackson at the 1998 Democratic National Convention. In the fall of 2005, at the age of 80, she traveled on the bus from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., to participate in a rally against the war in Iraq, and she continued to work for the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression until her death.
A lifelong Episcopalian, Braden reflected, "I grew up...in a totally racially segregated society. You just knew something was wrong. I mean there were the pictures on the Sunday School wall of the children of all colors. You know, sitting around Jesus? Brown, black, white. You'd look at that and that's not the way the Sunday School class looked, right? I mean you're bound to notice that."
In the last article Braden wrote, published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in January 2006, she reflects, "I had to face the painful fact that this society that had nurtured me and been good to me was just plain wrong. And I was able to change sides in the racial divide...This very painful experience is not destructive, because once we have done it, we are free. We are not really free of the racism within us because we will always see the world through white eyes, but we are free to struggle consciously against it, so it no longer shapes our lives without even knowing it."
When white people "make a conscious decision and take concerted action to 'change sides' on the issue of race," we join "the other America," the one of resistance and struggle for a different world. Braden observed, "this is the genius of humankind, the thing that makes us half divine: the fact that some human beings can envision a world that has never existed...And living in the world that is working to make it happen lets us know our lives are worthwhile." THAT is letting God's love SHINE!
* Carol Barton is one of the executives for racial justice for the Women's Division. This meditation is written to help United Methodist Women begin to prayerfully prepare themselves for the United Methodist Women's Assembly, May 4-7 in Anaheim, Calif., and for the ensuing education, inspiration, and mission work of the organization.
Excerpts from an Interview with Anne Braden , A Southern Childhood, The Veterans of Hope Project, Vincent Harding, http://www.veteransofhope.org (downloaded 3/17/06)
Finding the Other America, Anne Braden, Fellowship , January/February 2006, http://www.forusa.org/fellowship/recent.html downloaded 3/17/06 .