Just over 50 years ago thousands of Birmingham students – some as young as 6 years old – left their classrooms to participate in a peaceful march on City Hall where they were hoping to meet with the mayor to discuss the end of segregation in their city. In response to this nonviolent protest, angry authorities brought out attack dogs and fire hoses, turning them on the children and then arresting and imprisoning many of them.
Images of these brutal actions against the children made their way around the world, galvanizing the nation and shocking the world. Many believe that this “Children’s Crusade” turned the tide in the struggle to end segregation and helped clear the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Tragically, on September 15, 1963, just four months after the Children’s March, white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing 4 young African American girls and wounding many others. Although historical sources all differ on whether it was a Sunday school lesson or the sermon, most sources agree that it was a Youth Sunday and that the lesson was “A Love that Forgives,” based on Matthew 5:43-44 (though some sources say it was Luke 23:34).
Because September 15 falls on a Sunday once again this year, that day has been set aside as Civil Rights Sunday, with many faith communities across the Episcopal Church joining in solidarity with the churches of Birmingham to continue the Sunday School lesson that was cut tragically short.
As Christians, we are called to a radical kind of love, one that seeks reconciliation. The children who marched in May of 1963 responded to the abuse, the hatred and the anger of their community peacefully and prayerfully, they responded to the racism, not with anger, but with love and trust in God.
What an incredible example of children teaching adults about the radical nature of love and peace.
How can our children minister in the same way today? I encourage you to take up the lesson, “A Love That Forgives” on Sunday, September 15 and to ask the children in your community to respond to the message creatively through prayer, art, video, photography or any other means.
Send me the creations to share in the Episcopal Church’s upcoming State of Racism webcast, which will air live on Friday Nov. 15, 2013 at 1 pm Central (2 pm Eastern, noon Mountain, 11 am Pacific, 10 am Alaska, 9 am Hawaii). The forum is ideal for live group watching and discussion, or on-demand viewing later. It will be appropriate for Sunday School, discussions groups, and community gatherings.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few additional resources as you prepare for Civil Rights Sunday:
- Civil Rights Timeline for Children
- For more on the “Children’s March” visit this PBS website for the video of the interview of the children, now adults, who participated.
- ‘Children’s March’ 50 Years Later: Civil Rights Movement’s Young ‘Foot Soldiers’ Recall Their Stories, Huffington Post
- A Love That Forgives sample children’s sermon, on the chancel steps blog
- The History Channel offers several outstanding videos on the bombing and Civil Rights movement during the 1960′s.
- The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute offers resources to support education on civil and human rights.
- Civil Rights Sunday blog post, Building Faith blog