The Civil Rights Movement
March: Book Two, written by Civil Rights Movement veteran John Lewis and his advisor Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, tells the story of the Freedom Rides and the March on Washington. The Civil Rights movement was a revolutionary movement in the United States and it challenged the way that many people had thought of race and religion. One image in the novel hits home this idea by making a pretty important point.
The image of the broken stained glass is a recurring image in the novel. It even is featured on the back cover of the book. The image first appears when the freedom riders are meeting in a church as a mob swarms around the outside. Suddenly one of the members of the mob throws a brick into the church through the stained glass and it strikes on of the members of the group, leaving a hole right where Jesus’s face used to be. The illustrator leaves the reader with an image of a faceless Jesus hanging over the bloody victim of the mob’s violence. This image heightens the senselessness of the violence by underlining its relation to religion. Many white supremacists would use religion to justify segregation and racial violence, just like they had done with slavery just a century earlier. Later in the novel Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi states that “The good lord was the original segregationist” and that he had “put the negro in Africa, separated him from all other races.” These religious justifications for racist policies created an environment of violence towards African Americans. However, Christianity has always been a double sided coin in relation to race relations in the United States. On one side it was used to justify evil, on the other it was used as a liberator. Many African Americans used Christianity as an influence for their participation and philosophies during the Civil Rights Movement. They took Jesus’s teachings of peace, love, and nonviolent resistance and applied them to the fight for freedom in America. The image in the novel of a faceless Jesus shows not only the violence brought upon peaceful protestors, but the hypocrisy of the white supremacist mobs. The illustrator is showing that their attempt to justify violence through the bible is a mockery of Jesus and his teachings. By using Jesus to justify their hatred, white supremacists are quite literally destroying him.
Changing the Narrative
Change the narrative. That was one of the main talking points of Bryan Stevenson’s lecture at Davidson College as part of the 2020 Reynolds lecture series. Stevenson, an American lawyer from Delaware, has worked ever since he graduated law school to seek justice within America’s prison system. He has defended many people on death row, and even gotten some of them released, as they were found to be innocent. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative and recently they have built The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson’s talk in January of 2020 was revolutionary in a number of ways, from the ideas he proposed about criminal justice reform, to the actual work he has done to improve the criminal justice system. Additionally, however, one of his ideas can reframe the way we think of racial justice in the American South and America as a whole. This idea: change the narrative.
Stevenson was very wise to give his talk on modern criminal justice reform a historical backdrop. As he explained, America has never fully healed from the wounds of slavery. Even though the Civil War was won by the Union and slavery was abolished, full racial justice has still never been achieved in the United States. Right after the Civil War, a new narrative was crafted by southerners called the “Lost Cause Narrative.” This idea romanticizes the Antebellum South as a pristine place only ruined by “The War of Northern Aggression” as proponents of this idea would call it. Along with this idea came extreme racism towards the African American population of the South. Much of this racism is well documented in history books, from the horrific lynchings of many black men and women across the south to the southern segregation imposed by Jim Crow laws. However much of this racism is still lingering on. Remnants of the “Lost Cause Narrative” can be seen in prominent uses of the Confederate flag across the south and in the numerous Confederate statues littering southern states. Although these elements still exist, many people consider the Civil Rights Movement to have ended in the 1960s. Stevenson explains that this notion is a fallacy.
Immediately following the “end” of the Civil Rights Movement as we understand it, many pieces of the “Lost Cause Narrative” made their way into national politics as conservative politicians unveiled their new “tough on crime” and “law and order” policies as well as the disastrous “War on Drugs.” These policies were a veiled exploitation of a clause in the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution: that slavery shall be abolished except as use for punishment for a crime. Stevenson explains that America’s criminal justice system exploited and continues to exploit this clause by making American citizens vilify criminals of younger and younger ages with terms such as “superpredators” and by establishing mandatory-minimum sentences for small crimes. Ever since these policies the American incarceration rates have skyrocketed, to a number larger than any other country in the world. Unfortunately, these rates fall along racial lines as well. African-American citizens are much more likely to be incarcerated than white citizens, and they are much more likely to be targeted by police as well. The narrative of the “Lost Cause” seems to have made its way to the present day.
That’s where Stevenson stepped in. He asked us all to change this narrative; to not let America the “Land of the Free” be the land with the highest incarceration rates in the world and with the unhealed wound of slavery and racial inequality. He asked us to acknowledge our horrible history, not glorify it. He asked us to speak the truth about the American criminal justice system. Finally he asked us to act, as he has spent his life doing; to get proximate with the ones in this country who are most vulnerable, to move out of our comfort zones, and to never give up hope.
In the last couple years a major event in Britain has shaken the world. This event, known commonly as Brexit, is Britains decision by popular vote to leave the European Union. This exodus would be a major revolution for European politics and would change almost every single way in which Britain interacts with the rest of Europe. Here are a couple photos from my time in London last spring that I displayed in my senior year photography show.
Many strides for environmentalism have been made this year from the outspoken warrior, Greta Thunberg, to the invention of new biodegradable plastics. Here is another photo of a protester from the same day in London, however protesting for a different cause.
Back the Night, written by Melina Lopez and directed for the stage at Davidson College by Sharon Green, is a play that tackles the tough subject of campus sexual assault. Taking its name from the phrase “Take Back the Night” used by many groups fighting against violence against women, the play tells the story of Em and her internal struggle after her friend Cassie is assualted walking home one night. The core of the play is found in the relationship between these two characters. Both characters are complicated with their own set of contradictions, however together their complexity seems to give a mixed message to the audience. The play slowly peels back the layers of the situation like an onion creating for a murky, cold soup of an ending. By the end of the play, more questions seemed to have been raised, rather than answered. The play tries to explore the idea that “sometimes you do the wrong thing for the right reason” (Lopez has that in her description of the play on her website). However, at first glance it seems that the play may contribute to the pervasive and problematic idea that many women who come forward about sexual assault are lying. Maybe the play is trying to comment on the failure of universities to report and successfully handle cases of sexual assault and how that creates an atmosphere of distrust and lack of safety. Whatever the case is, the play still may carry along negative undertones with messages it sends. Even still, the play is a call to action for everyone because the problem of sexual assault on college campuses still exists and schools are still failing to do survivors justice by trying to cover up assaults. Whatever problems the play may have it still makes one thing clear: there needs to be a widespread change in colleges across the United States in how they prevent and handle cases of sexual violence.