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To Be Is To Stand For

Sunday, the NYT’s moment in history read:


On Sept. 15, 1963, four black girls were killed when a bomb went off during Sunday services at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, in the deadliest act of the civil rights era.

Last night, we went to see Four Little Girls: Birmingham, 1963 at Dillard University. Sunday, at 10:22 am CT, fifty years ago, Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley (all 14), four girls with big dreams were blown up in by haters. In one of the most disgusting events of this country’s history.

I watched the dramatic telling of the story, the white people shouting hateful things to the Black people, the la di da and carefree attitude of the white children and the thwarted attempt at a carefree attitude of the black children who had to become young warriors, and the accumulated sorrow of a people who held their heads up high and developed coping skills nothing short of miraculous.

W.E. B. Du Bois said, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” What have we taught our children, America? That property is worth more than humanity? That some people have value and some don’t? That the history of this country is not stars and stripes forever for everyone?

At the end of the play, the actors sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the Black National Anthem. Afterwards, a woman in the audience stood up and asked why the audience was not requested to stand up out of respect for the anthem. It is after all the Black National Anthem (the audience was mostly Black).

“One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” 
― W.E.B. Du BoisThe Souls of Black Folk

Yesterday was fifty years since four little girls, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were blown up in a bomb of hate and my four and a half year old son is growing up in a world where he will have to code switch. I was four years old when those little girls were blown up. I wasn’t living in a la di da world entirely – because of my father’s accent, we were strangers, because of the ethnic food on our table, we were strangers, because we were Jewish, we were strangers, but no signs on stores and restaurants and drinking fountains and bathrooms said NO JEWS ALLOWED – NO HISPANICS ALLOWED – NO KIBBE/ TABOULEH/ TOSTONE/ ARROZ CON POLLO EATING PEOPLE ALLOWED. My family passed in this strange world – we were washed out into a sea of whiteness.

The National Anthem that everyone stands up for:

The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

The Black National Anthem that we did not stand up for last night on the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham Bombing:

Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Parents, we have failed our children if fifty years after Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were blown up in a church, my four and a half year old son still has to learn how to code switch, how to grow up being suspicious of law enforcement, how to stand tall but be safe.

Teach your children their history – the good, the bad and the ugly – teach them, so they don’t repeat it. NEVER FORGET is what Jewish children learn in their lives. Give our all U.S. children context for why some people are poor while others have more than they can spend in twenty lifetimes, for why people of color still struggle, for why white children never have to think about race, for how we all got into this mess and then teach them tikkun olam – how to repair the world – or as one of the leading Jewish theologians during the civil rights era, Abraham Joshua Heschel, said, “To be is to stand for.” Teach your children to stand for something. Because if you don’t stand for something, then like Malcolm X told us, you’ll fall for anything.



 Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King

by Rachel Dangermond

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