THE BLOG

Reflections on Selma

03/10/2015 03:00 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015

I am home alone, reflecting on the remarkable and blessed experiences of the past three days. Yesterday I sat at the steps of the State House in Montgomery, Alabama, listening to some remarkable reflections from a spouse and daughter of the 1960s. Juanita Abernathy, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.'s constant companion, Ralph David Abernathy, and Peggy Wallace Kennedy, the daughter of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, gave moving testimonies of what it was like on opposite ends of the spectrum as wills were tested during the run-up to the March 7, 1965, march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

I was particularly moved by Ms. Wallace Kennedy as she shared the experience of taking her son, Gov. Wallace's grandson, to the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. After taking in some of the sights and sounds of the Center, her son asked her, "Why did Pa Pa do those things to other people?" Ms. Wallace Kennedy said that she answered her son by telling him that her father "never told [her] why he did those things" but that they were wrong, and that it would be "up to [them] to help make things right."

My flight home was out of Birmingham. During the 90-minute automobile ride from Montgomery to Birmingham, the time I spent in the Birmingham airport waiting on my flight, and on the flights to Columbia through Charlotte, I did a lot of reflecting and projecting. My feelings were that there is much more hope than the despair that so many express for the future of our great country.

Before leaving Montgomery, I had conversations with several current and former colleagues about what might flow from our weekend experiences. I shared my favorite passage from King's letter from Birmingham City Jail. In that timeless document, King responded to those who felt that his cause was right but the timing was wrong. King admonished in that letter that time is never right and time is never wrong. Time is always what we make of it.

He went on to intone that he was coming to the conclusion that "the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will," and he concluded the thought by writing, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

We are hearing a great deal from those in our society who would like to turn the clock back on voting rights, civil rights, and the right to peaceably assemble. The rights to judicial fairness and effective representation in our various legislative bodies are under siege. The allowance of unlimited and secret financing of political campaigns and the creation of political ghettos and barrios are disconcerting. The voices of those who toss around gratuitous insults are loud and clear.

On Saturday morning I sat in the pews of Brown Chapel AMEC and listened to a panel of several people whose lives were significantly impacted by the events at Selma 50 years ago. One of them was Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe, the daughter of Viola Liuzzo, the white activist who was murdered while transporting some of the marchers back to Selma from Montgomery. Ms. Liuzzo Lilleboe said that she is often asked why her mother went to Selma. But she said that she believes the more appropriate question is "why more people didn't go."

I believe there are many more people of good will among us than various news reports might lead us to believe. Hopefully, more of them will raise their voices in continuance of our search for "a more perfect Union."