Friday, July 24, 2015

Good Riddance!

This sermon was given on July 19th, 2015, by Liz Hutchison.

There has been a lot in the news recently about the Confederate Flag.

Flags are meaningful to us.

My husband arrived at Dulles International Airport in a coffin, draped with the American Flag.  

My granddaughter’s great- great grandmother was the Betsy Ross of Texas.  She sewed the flag that was carried by the Georgia volunteers who fought in the Texas Revolution.

And I was with the group in Selma who first attempted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

We thought they might tear gas us, so we each had a piece of white fabric to cover our face with.
When I saw the police fondling their batons and looking longingly at us I knew that I might,  at some point, use mine as a white flag of surrender.

Here’s another flag story.  I wasn’t there but I heard this from someone who was.
Bill Nichols, a Dallas Unitarian minister, hung the Nazi swastika flag from the podium…. and then proceeded with his sermon. It’s been a long time, and I don’t remember the details
but I think it may have been something favorable about the Nazi regime.

Now remember as Unitarians we pride ourselves on the freedom of the pulpit.

As the story goes, the members of the congregation sat through as much of this as they could stand. Finally someone walked to the front…., tore the flag down…., said a few choice words…. and stormed out.  

Bill stood there and said,…. “I was wondering how long it would take before one of you had had enough. 
My fellow Americans it has taken a long time but we have finally had enough.
The Confederate Flag is coming down.
Wait you say.  One  flag removed from one  state capitol building is not  the demise of the Confederate Flag.
Of course not.   I agree.  But it is the start and I believe a very important one.  It is the small hole in the dam, the camel’s nose in the tent, the first step in the long journey.

There’s a lot of protest and denial, but to me that’s just  is the sound of death rattles, he choking noises sometimes heard before a person expires.And I’ve  heard that sound before.
George Wallace was the governor of Alabama when I arrived in Birmingham.  He won reelection promising Never. Orval Faubus,  in neighboring Arkansas called in the State National Guard to keep the school’s segregated, but that didn’t work either.  Bull Conner used dogs and fire hoses.
Still we got rid of the separate, but equal schools, bathrooms, water fountains, waiting rooms, sections of buses and trains, movie theater seats, eateries and those awful White Only signs, and now the flag is coming down.

I visited Germany for three weeks around 15 years ago. Something I noticed was the absence of flags.  It took me quite a while to see and recognize the German flag.  As for the swastika, that was certainly nowhere to be seen, and I was not in the country side, but hitting ever city and town from Berlin to Frankfort and on to Munich. That is not to say they aren’t there.  Just that they weren’t in evidence.

So why is the confederate flag still around? Because it is a symbol of racism and racists like it.
 Its creator William T. Thompson said on April 23, 1863, As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior  or colored race. Well the time has come, enough is enough, the citizens are fed up.

So today is a happy day for me because I get to talk about a subject I love.  How I hate the Confederate Flag.  It is a symbol of racism and cruelty.  Dogs, fire hoses, children killed in church bombings, a Unitarian minister clubbed to death, voter registration, with no one being registered, young people found at the bottom of a bayou, burning crosses, lynching, murder, fear.  A black man with eight bullet holes in his back,  lower wages for the same work, I know you could add more to this list.

April of 1963 I moved to Birmingham, Alabama and found out what the confederate flag was and what it actually stood for.  And it stood for everything I knew to be hateful and evil.
Yes there are those who claim the flag stands for a Southern proud heritage.  I don't believe for a second that it has anything to do with pride.
What is there to be proud of?  They caused a war that killed their own countrymen and they lost it. They lost their homes, their livelihood, and the human beings that they had enslaved.  The rich lost everything.  The poor of course remained the same.
In Brooklyn we would say “Hang on to your confederate money.  The South will rise again”.
To us it meant the same thing as some-thing having a snowball’s chance in hell.

After living in the South I think it would be nice if the were to rise again, and prosper, and invest in schools and jobs. 

Racism in the South meant keeping others from making progress. In other words keep them in the gutter.  The problem

With that, as we have seen too well, is that in order to keep a person in the gutter, you have to get down there with him and hold him there. 

How many of those who revere the flag are the descendants of wealthy landowners with slaves, and how many from the poor white share croppers? And as for the soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy?  Well what about the men who died fighting to preserve the Union.
Very few Northerners are descended from Rockefellers, Carnegies, or Melons.  They are not dreaming of restoring Lady Astor and her salon that held only 400.

There are plans to put the flag in a museum.   I’ve only been to one Civil Rights Museum. That was in Jackson, Mississippi.  I hadn’t intended to go there.  I was trying to buy tickets to a ballet performance and the ticket office was closed for lunch and it was hot and the museum was open.
You know how your eyes have to adjust when you come from a brightly lit room to a dark one.  That’s sort of what I experienced at that museum.  All the photos were there, but the captions didn’t match them.  Something like “ Little Black Children cooling off in the water hydrant”,  when they were actually water hoses that knock a grown man down  and take the skin off him.
They say you can put lipstick on a pig, but everyone will still know it’s a pig.  That’s what is true of the museum, and although it’s a shame not to be to truthful, they aren’t going to fool a lot of people with their confederate flag and it’s shameful history no matter what is said about it’s  proud heritage. 

I know what they should do with their flag. Put Jim Crow in a casket, drape it with the confederate flag and bury it in a Mississippi swamp.

I’m going to close with a favorite poem by the German minister Martin Niemoller.  who, after he changed his allegiance, almost died in a concentration camp.

He wrote this first in 1937 and changed some of the words later, in case you’re familiar with a different version. I chose this version because it was the one I first heard.

In Germany, they first came for the communists and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up.

I have thought of these words often in my life.  I’ve wanted to make this world a better place for those here now, and for those to come.

Sometimes I feel discouraged.