On Walking in Their Footsteps along a Mighty Stream

Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager
Amos 5:24

 Good morning! We’ll be sharing our Civil Rights journey with you this morning part. There’s something powerful and challenging about having to put into words what you’ve seen and heard.
On numerous murals and museum walls in Montgomery, we saw this quote by Maya Angelou:
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

We walked in many historic and courageous footsteps on our journey to Atlanta, Georgia and Montgomery and Selma Alabama. It’s impossible to share all of what we experienced together but we hope to give you a
sense of our personal and collective experiences; a collage of the learning about the deep and hard history we followed – and are processing still….

As you may have heard by now, there were 25 of us, 8 intrepid chaperones and parents and 17 extraordinary young people between 3rd grade through high school. We were from different places and levels of awareness of our history but none of us had ever done this journey before so in many ways, we were all seeing history with new eyes together. We became a church on the road. We sat in the guest pews of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the historic church of Dr. King and now, the Senator Reverend Warnock…and sang along to the gospel music filling us up for the days ahead!

We ate too much fried chicken and filled up on fried dill pickles, too– the jury is still out on the fried green tomatoes!

We stood on the campus of Alabama State University, famous HBCU and stared up at the afternoon sky with our eclipse glasses on. There’s a photo of that moment right over there on one of the window sills.
Thanks to Civil Rights historians we met there, Dr. Bertis English and others, we walked to the spot where Rosa Parks got on that fateful Montgomery City Bus where the peaceful revolution called the Montgomery Bus boycott began, the largest and longest nonviolent peaceful protest in the history of America. We heard about the true engines of the movement, thousands of children and youth, from elementary to college age who marched and chanted, got arrested and fought for voting rights and the dismantling of Jim Crow, changing the world in their time.

We walked past the homes of Civil rights activists, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr.’s right hand partner in the civil rights movement and saw where the late great Nat King Cole lived. All unforgettable voices!

We met a living heroine of the movement, Ms. Joann Bland who you’ll hear more about in a moment. She had us stand together on the steps of Brown’s Chapel in Selma where the late Congressman John Lewis and
Dr. King and Ms. Bland’s 11year old self gathered with her mother and sister as they prepared to walk across the bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965. Ms. Bland, now in her 70’s, told us that by the time she was in the 5th grade, she’d been arrested with her mother 13 times!

In silence, we walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge ourselves down the street from there and lit our candles in the rain, against the wind. We ate sandwiches and traced our fingers along the baked brick walls
made by the enslaved people of Montgomery at the Legacy Museum there. Some of us walked in the pouring rain through the outdoor memorial of bronze and steel honoring the more than 800 people, victims of racial terror and lynchings across our country.

On one wall there is a sign that says, “the purpose of this museum is to advance a society where the children of these children can one day live unburdened by the legacy of slavery, free from bigotry and racial bigotry.” Imagine that imprinted on church walls…

Congressman Lewis wrote about his own steadfast commitment to nonviolence: “In the movement, we did not seek retaliation or revenge against our attackers, because we recognized that we could not harm them without
harming ourselves. We saw them as wayward brothers and sisters who had lost their way. We learned to visualize them as innocent babies. No child is born in hate. All children are born in hope, love, and innocence.

As John Lewis said,  “The goal of our work in the movement, of all of our activism, and our protest was to come to love better… so clothe yourself in the work of love, in the revolutionary work of nonviolent resistance against evil.

Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with its goodness.” I can’t think of more prophetic words to begin our storytelling today. Thank you to all of you for your support of our partnership journeys, for your mentorship and shared ministry, for your listening and sacred conversations. This trip is part of the long journey of reckoning with our shared history here in the Deep North and dismantling racism in our
own time. FCCOL has been engaged in this work for decades. And next week our confirmation students with be helping to clean the Witness Stones along Lyme street John Lewis was also famous for calling the commitment to social justice “Good Trouble.” I like to tell people when they ask about our church that we’re a “Good Trouble” church full of many holy troublemakers and young leaders –who are our future  I’d like to call up some of those young voices right now, fellow travelers, Joe Kazadi, Ellison Lodge, Anna Bjornberg and Clarissa Mock followed by our Director of Youth Education, Jolene Brant..

Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager


1 John Lewis, Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change