Good reads for the Anniversary: Commemorations of the Civil Rights Era

In recent days and over the past several years, much attention has been given to the 50th commemoration of important civil rights events.

The famous Selma to Montgomery March, which took place in March 1965, has garnered much-needed attention by the people of Alabama and many across the nation.

Two years ago, the remembrance of the infamous bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was on our historical radar.

Although I was young during the Civil Rights era, I do remember the events with vivid recollections. The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church brought to my attention that the young victims of that horrendous act were around my age. That made me reflect even more on the value and worth of human life and the evil in our world that can snuff out lives by one heinous deed. I was interviewed by Baptist Press in 2013 for the 50th anniversary remembrance of this painful episode in our history.

I will not rehash my observations, but I will say that in one sense it was a therapeutic exercise for me.

The Selma to Montgomery March received national and international attention at a time when the media outlets were comparatively few in number.

As far as history goes, this event was a game changer in turning the tide of public opinion toward Civil Rights legislation. Therefore, it is an irresistible opportunity for further study.

I have pondered the significance of these landmark events by reading and rereading some important historical books that have been in my library for a while, some for a long time.

I would like to recommend a few of these books to those who would like to have more information concerning this important period in American history.

Last year, Pastor Alan Cross wrote a book for Kindle publication that was most insightful. Alan’s keen interest in history, as well as his thorough research were evident in When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus. If you want to know the background for the racial tension that existed and for the Civil Rights movement, Alan Cross is a helpful guide through the history of the South.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Birmingham native Diane McWhorter wrote a book more than 15 years ago that totally fascinated me. She offered a Birmingham perspective on the era. She rightly described Birmingham as the Gettysburg of the Civil Rights era. Reliving the events as she delineated them was a trip through the past for me. I learned more about Birmingham in general and the events related to the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham specifically from her book – Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution – than from any work I have ever read. I highly recommend it.

Samford professor Jonathan Bass also contributed much to the historical works on the Civil Rights era. Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the “Letters from Birmingham Jail” is well written. It obviously gives attention to the famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Bass’s book was an intriguing and informative read and, again, I do give this book the highest recommendation. Bass did some superb research for this book, and that was evident to me as I read it.

One of my favorite public figures on the scene today is Condoleezza Rice. A few years ago, she wrote a family memoir entitled Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family. Although this was devoted to telling the story of her family, Rice was a friend to one of the young girls murdered in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. This is an excellent firsthand account of a young African-American child who sought to metabolize all these tragic events and yet let them be a guide for her future of public service as a diplomat, presidential adviser and educator.

I have more than a bit of reluctance in endorsing some leadership books. However, I was impressed with the book, Martin Luther King Jr., on Leadership: Inspiration and Wisdom for Challenging Times, by Donald T. Phillips. Granted, Phillips simply highlights some of the seminal events of the era, but he does offer salient observations concerning this iconic figure in American history. It is an easy read and perhaps a good introduction to other works that offer much more detail concerning the Civil Rights era.

As always, I believe much can learned from history. In my amateurish opinion, we should study history in such a way to learn valuable lessons, even from tragic events.

These lessons, both good ones and bad ones, can help us build a bridge to the future. The Civil Rights period offers those significant learning opportunities.

We would be negligent in not being aware of this turning point period in our history.

Happy Reading!

Executive Director of Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions

State Missionary Rick Lance was elected in June of 1998 to serve as executive director of the State Board of Missions and treasurer of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Rick leads state missions efforts and facilitates Great Commission Ministries for the Convention's 3,200+ churches and more than one million Alabama Baptists.

Rick and his wife, Pam, are members at First Baptist Church, Montgomery. They have two daughters.

Any requests for Rick Lance to speak in or visit your church should be directed to Billie Davis at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 253 or (334) 613-2253, [email protected]

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