Yearning for Community Part 2

I did not know then that I was preparing myself for my own personal crusade against racism, prejudice and hatred. By the time I was a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, I’d backslid quite a bit, but I knew God called me to fight for black Americans’ right to vote. So I entered the Civil Rights Movement by joining Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1965. This conversion was easy. Just as at church, the songs we sang were mantras to the world we desired. In fact, many songs like “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” were spirituals. As with my family and the church there were rules about appropriate behavior. These new rules were designed to keep us alive as we walked the dirt roads of Pineville, South Carolina, encouraging those who picked cotton, grew tobacco and harvested corn to register to vote and be part of the American Dream. In the trenches, fighting a battle against bigotry, we were shot at and beaten, our church and a grammar school were set ablaze, and we lived with a siege mentality. The young white men and woman from California who had volunteered with me and the young and old black men and women of Pineville who supported us, braved the retribution of the Ku Klux Klan and a southern power structure that supported it. When we closed our meetings with our arms crossed holding the hands of the folks on either side to sing “We Shall Overcome” it was a statement of our dedication and a prayer for our survival. Many of the people I knew and worked with that summer are lifelong friends because we endured terror and were committed to changing a nation together.

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