Thursday, June 26, 2014

Freedom Summer


A PBS documentary, FreedomSummer,” which aired on Tuesday, rivals any movie for the gravity of its content, its emotional impact, its stirring music, and the nobility of its characters. Besides, these actors are real, not fictional, and they portray real events. The Blacks of Mississippi, the most bigoted state in the Jim Crow South, were transformed by a thousand courageous young people from the North who entered every corner of the state. They emboldened its disenfranchised citizens, and succeeded.  What a story!

I never tire of Civil Rights programs and they usually stir up tears. No movie actor portraying a hero tops the expressive passion of Fannie Lou Hamer speaking her truth at the Democratic National Convention. I relish her retort to Adam Clayton Powell who was cooperating with LBJ to undermine the movement.
How many hours have you spent picking cotton?  How many beatings have you taken?
The story affects me as one who always sides with the underdog and one who works in the vineyard of another campaign to liberate an oppressed group—women in Christianity. The movements do not share the same type or degree of violence—we don’t have lynching or outright murder in our movement. Well  . . . now that I reflect a little more . . . There’s trafficking and sex slavery, in numbers greater than the number of slaves bought and sold during the 19th century, a fact little known. And the brutality, while different in kind . . . who’s to say it’s less brutal?  In both cases innocent children are victims.

But, you say, Christianity teaches love, follows the spiritual master Jesus Christ. Quite a distance from forcing girls to be sex slaves. Ah, but think about the consequences of imagining the Ultimate Power of all reality to be a lord. Honest reflection and the willingness to release old grooves of thought bring the undeniable truth—the way we talk to and about God has shaped minds in a way that led to heinous results.

In both the Civil Rights movement and the women’s movement, non-violence acts as a critical tactic—a “new kind of power” to counter cruelty toward the despised group. Fifty years after Freedom Summer, which led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, non-violence has evolved, led by the Catholic sisters in their Leadership Conference (LCWR) and Catholic women priests, to become a new model of leadership. (See below.)

Few women in the Civil Rights movement, however, recognized the need for liberation of their own sex. It pains me to hear them beseeching “the Lord” for “the rights of man.” And men in the movement had no concept of any gender oppression. I remember reading in a news report at the time that Black activist Stokely Carmichael said, “The right position for women in the Civil Rights movement is prone.”

What progress have we made 50 years later?  Politics and media are still dominated by white men, but signs clearly point to change. Women are being prepared for professions such as law and education in greater numbers than men, so many more that observers are seriously worried about the consequences. The media are full of stories about stay-at-home husbands and single-parent men nurturing children, exercising the traits typically associated with womanhood. I started bringing my babies to pediatricians at the beginning of the 1970s. In the next 15 years, I noticed the changing gender of parents bringing in their children—all women at first, some men later.
In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky (2007) I wrote,
To the independence-seeking male, let us add the connection-seeking female. To counter the adversarial inclination, let us apply relationship building. To counter war-making, competition, and domination, let us apply peacemaking, cooperation, and partnership. . . . Barred from power for many centuries, women are able to practice power with instead of power over and against . . .
Today, while militarism and weaponry still dominate news reports, our media increasingly include feminine themes disparaged for millennia by patriarchy.

At the end of "FreedomSummer" we see the exhilarating transformation of oppressed Blacks in Mississippi, leading to actions that would change the country. Would that a Freedom Season of some kind transformed Christian women to finally stop putting up with patriarchal bias. It would take a transformation of minds partially achieved during Freedom Summer and partially described in the previous post.

**Check out my updated blog index. Some new elements: the posts under Scientific Materialism and my letter to Pope Francis.

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