Reflections From My March in Selma: Our Civil Rights Work is Unfinished

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Linda Hartke, LIRS CEO, and Rev. Dr. John Luom, faculty member at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis walking the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Linda Hartke and Rev. Dr. John Luom, faculty member at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

A little more than a week ago, I traveled to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when hundreds of peaceful citizens marching for racial justice were brutally beaten. I was invited by Concordia College Alabama (CCA), a historically black college of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

CCA and the LCMS have a bold legacy of calling for equality: Concordia College Alabama, founded in 1922, is currently the only historically black Lutheran college or university in the United States.

I joined the college for their annual Civil Rights Symposium and spoke on a panel about the church and our role in civil rights. Hundreds of participants attended the symposium: CCA students, faculty and board of regents, college students from other schools who came by bus over their spring break, original “foot soldiers” from the Selma-Montgomery march, and many more.

During my panel, a question on racism today made me reflect: 50 years after Selma, racism is still evident in individual acts of fomenting fear, hatred, threats, violence, and daily discrimination. Racism in our country is systemic and institutionalized. This is seen in the rates of arrest and incarceration of African Americans and other ethnic minorities; in neighborhoods, schools, and jobs that are still, in many ways, segregated; and 50 years later in a renewed challenge to ensure the voting rights of all citizens.

This institutionalized racism harms the whole of society. It targets anyone who is seen as “other,” not only African Americans. In our work at LIRS, we see how this impacts new Americans, refugees, and immigrants. A person living here in Maryland once told me they didn’t want a refugee family of seven from the Democratic Republic of Congo to move in next door because they were afraid for their child’s safety. Fear continues to fuel racism today.

Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo, President of CCA, insightfully elaborates on how racism exists today and affects us all. “The civil rights movement does not belong solely to the United States. Men and women are facing discrimination all over the world, and they turn to the United States for leadership, inspiration, and hope. Many of these men and women come to this country to better themselves and to provide for their families.”

“There are a number of students at Concordia,” he says, “from countries around the world, seeking a higher education and to be able to return to their own countries and make a difference in the lives of their countrymen. This becomes a ministry of our institution, to serve these young men and women, and to prepare them for the challenges they will face.”

Our civil rights work is unfinished. But as we march forward together and live in to God’s call to love and serve our neighbors, the constant presence of a loving God at work through us in a broken world gives us hope and pushes us towards a more just and compassionate world. I’m proud to walk this journey with the strong partnership of the LCMS, CCA, and people of faith around the country.

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