Southeastern Synod ELCA

Understanding Our History

The Rev. Cliff Bahlingher - May 16, 2019
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage,
need not be lived again." --Maya Angelou, American poet and activist
 
I think most of us enjoy history and feel like we know the basic history of our country. I also count myself as a bit of a history buff and enjoy learning about our southern history. Our Southeastern Synod sponsored a day, in Montgomery, AL, at the new “Legacy Museum, From Slavery to Mass Incarceration.” This museum was an eye-opener for me. It gave a detailed history of African Americans in America. While most of us are familiar with the horrors of slavery, what is not often known, is that the prison system in our country became the new slavery system after slavery was abolished. I was shocked to learn that African American men could be arrested in Alabama for just standing on a street corner. Once arrested, they were forced to work in the north Alabama coal mines with no wages paid. Today, we learned that people of color are six times more likely to be charged and given a longer sentence than a white person. It easy to see that today, reforming sentencing guidelines and prisons is needed in our country.

A second museum we visited is an outdoor museum, “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.” It is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, and people terrorized by lynching. This large open-air museum educates us on the terrorism of lynching in our country. Large metal rectangle boxes hang from the ceiling, and on each is the name of a county and those lynched in that county until 1950. The hope is that as we remember and learn; we can hope and work for a better and more just country. We can demand a more just legal system, and we can have the courage to speak and protect those unjustly persecuted in our county.

As people of faith, we believe that God is on the side of the vulnerable. We believe that God is a God of justice, mercy, and forgiveness. While we cannot stop what happened in the past, we can learn from it, and educate ourselves on the legacy of these past sins. Brian Stevenson, Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says it best, “We believe that understanding our history won’t harm us, it will actually empower us to create a better future.”