March 8, 2015

This Was Selma

In his biography, I've Seen the Day, George M. Docherty, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., devotes one whole chapter to the events of Selma in February-March 1965.  He writes: "I went to Selma at the Lord's bidding, and it was indeed a wondrous trip! If it meant the end of my New York Avenue ministry, so be it! I was now convinced that if I did not go to Selma, I could no longer face my people Sunday by Sunday with unsullied conscience."

George and his wife flew to Selma on February 21 for a series of gatherings and planning sessions. At one such meeting in Camden, prior to the March on Selma, he was introduced at a gathering as part of the continuing voter registration process.  He was introduced to the large gathering by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: "Brothers and sisters, I have a friend with me today who has come all the way from Washington to be with you. He is a Presbyterian preacher ... He preaches in the church where Abraham Lincoln worshiped."

Docherty relates in his biography that he came forward to cheers and shouts, amid the sounds of the rain on the corrugated roof.  "My dear people, there seems so little I can offer you. But I do offer you our love and such support as we are able to give. My wife and I are here, glad to be here, to show that we are one with you in your cause. We will be returning soon to Washington. I want you to remember that in that big city a minister and his wife are praying for you...."

Docherty did return to Washington on Wednesday before the March 7 march, and preached on that Sunday a sermon titled, "This Was Selma."  Docherty writes, "I felt free as never before to speak. I must have let myself go, for a surge of emotion swept across the congregation as I poured out my pent-up indignation about the plight of the black community."

"Where is God in all this suffering and injustice?  And how long must this kind of injustice be permitted?  ... What I see is the Christ turning on his heel from the white churches, shaking the red dust of Alabama from his shoes, and finding a true home of faith among the minor-chord melodies of the Negro spirituals and the eloquence of their preachers and the music of their prayers. To us whites, he turns for a while and weeps, as he wept over Jerusalem so long ago crying "AH! Jerusalem, if only thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace!"

It was later that evening while watching television, the program was interrupted to announce that violence had broken out in Selma.   Later they would hear that a Ministers' March to Montogomery would be held on March 9th.   More on that in tomorrow's post.