Civil Rights Act Anniversary: Committed to liberation

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I am a product of the ‘60s Civil Rights Movement … guided, molded and shaped into my “who-ness,” first by my parents, whose professional responsibilities and volunteer activity in the fight for Civil Rights increased my awareness of the injustices in our society and importance of speaking against those injustices. My own experiences as a graduate of Maggie L. Walker High School, a segregated high school in Richmond, Va., and student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, enhanced my worldview and commitment to the liberation of people of African descent. 

My father, the Rev. Gloster B. Current, director of branches and field operations for the NAACP, was a major strategist in coordinating the 1963 March on Washington. He was also a political analyst with the NAACP Washington bureau chief, Clarence Mitchell Sr., in lobbying for passage of the Civil Rights Act, and, as Medgar Evers’ supervisor, witnessed the assassination of Medgar, by white supremacist, Byron De La Beckwith, on June 12, 1963.

Dad was also one of the founding members of The United Methodist Church’s Commission on Religion and Race. Mom, who became Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, then a history and economics teacher at segregated Armstrong High School in Richmond, agreed to be one of two African-American teachers to integrate the faculty of John Marshall High School and ensure that the first African-American students integrating that school would have teachers of color to support them.

In 1963, I was at Morgan. I was a member of the debate team; was a student participant in the Maryland Freedom Rides; picketed the movie theater near the campus at Northwood Shopping Center; was arrested with 343 Morganites, including classmate Ernie Lyght (elected bishop in The UMC in 1984), along with students from John Hopkins University and Goucher College. Each of us was charged $600 bail and jailed for six days in Baltimore’s Pine Street Jail. With NAACP support and funds raised by residents, the charges were dropped, we were freed, the theater was desegregated and buses returned us to campus.

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Interpreter Magazine invited six who were involved in the struggle for U.S. civil rights to share their reflections. 

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Thousands of high school and college students throughout the South and North replicated my student experiences — actively engaged in civil disobedience activities, protesting the 60 years of Jim Crow laws and segregated public facilities and demanding the right to vote.

Stokely Carmichael, John L. Lewis, United Methodist minister the Rev. James Lawson and others founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which became largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Movement. To this day, many of us believe that the student movement and the students’ willingness to risk their lives for freedom played a major role in ensuring the passage of the Civil Rights Act in July 1964.

As we celebrate the eradication of legal segregation; the election of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States and strides made in this multicultural, diverse, highly technological society, we are simultaneously witnessing a frightening emergence of racial hatred. We see growing numbers of white supremacy groups in the United States, well-organized efforts to prohibit racial ethnics from voting, mass incarceration of thousands of poor black and brown people in the name of the “war on drugs” and a growing use of “Stand Your Ground” laws to justify killing young black males — the new form of lynching!

We have celebrated 60 years of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and next year will be the 50th anniversary of   the Voting Rights Act. We have witnessed the passing of our heroes and “sheroes,” recently, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Vincent Harding and Ruby Dee. They have joined Malcom, Medgar, Martin, Bobby, Roy, Whitney, Dorothy, Coretta and others who fought for our freedom and are among that mighty cloud of witnesses. 

Every generation inherits the world that the preceding generation helped to dream and create for them — both the good and the bad. As my generation passes the baton, are there people we can rely upon who will remain steadfast, unmovable, always abiding in the Word of the Lord? Who within this great denomination of United Methodists will remember the words of Amos?

“Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

--Amos 5:23-24, NRSV

--Angella Current-Felder is the former executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Her books include Breaking Barriers: An African American Family and the Methodist Story, Abingdon, 2001, and School of Dreams in the Valley of Hope: The Africa University Story, AU Press, 2012.

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