News and Views

Pilgrimage to retrace the steps of freedom

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By C. Antony Hunt*

Journeys together are wonderful ways to build community and learn more about who we are in light of the diversity that is incumbent in community. Since 2006, I have had the privilege of leading groups of scholars from Wesley Theological Seminary and St. Mary’s Seminary and University in immersion courses that retrace many of the steps of the American Civil Rights movement in Alabama during the 1950s and 60s. 

This coming April 6-11, a group of about 50 laity and clergy from the Baltimore-Washington Conference will travel from Maryland to Alabama to retrace the steps of those who lived and struggled together during the American Civil rights era.

We will travel through Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, Ala., beginning each day with singing, praying and reading Scripture as was the practice in the tradition of the American Civil Rights movement. John Lewis, now a U.S. Congressman from Georgia, and one who labored on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement, has intimated that “We never went out without singing and praying.” And so, before leaving each morning, we will pray, read Scripture, and sing freedom songs.

As we travel, reflect, listen and learn together — often struggling through many of the difficult paths and realities of those who lived the Civil Rights movement — we invariably sense among ourselves the real possibility that the Beloved Community can be realized in our lifetime, and that bridges can indeed be built to help us cross and healthily engage those things that still divide us. 

We will visit numerous sites that were significant to the Civil Rights movement. In Montgomery, we will visit Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor from 1954-1960 at the height of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Two blocks from Dexter Avenue Church, we'll visit the First Confederate White House, the home of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Sitting between Dexter Avenue Church and the first Confederate White House is the Alabama State Capitol — the place where Gov. George Wallace and other state officials stood in defiance of efforts towards equal rights among the races. We will visit the Equal Justice Initiative, and learn of the legacy of lynching across America, as well as instances of modern injustice like mass incarceration.   

In Birmingham, one of the places we'll visit is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which on September 15, 1963, was bombed by segregationists, and where four black girls (ages 11-14) were killed in the church basement while preparing for their Children’s Day worship celebration. Across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is Kelly Ingram Park, where many of the protest marches in the city of Birmingham began, and which became notorious for the atrocious and brutal acts of Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor and the Birmingham police as they turned dogs and fire hoses on black children of Birmingham.

Invariably, one of the most moving parts of our time in Alabama is our walk together across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where on March 7, 1965 (known as “Bloody Sunday”), over 600 persons of various races and religions were beaten and turned back by police in their efforts to cross the bridge and march from Selma to Montgomery to demand voting rights for all people.   

At the conclusion of each of these Alabama journeys, I am always struck by how far we as a society have come, how many divides we’ve crossed, and yet how many divides are yet to be crossed.  We realize that it would not have been possible 50 years ago for groups of people from diverse backgrounds to travel in relative peace and safety throughout Alabama. These are real signs of the stones of hope that can, as Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., be hewn out of the mountain of despair among us.

If you are interested in traveling with us on the Retracing the Steps of Freedom Pilgrimage in April, there are still a few seats available. For further details, contact Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson at  or 240-581-5366, or visit here.

*The Rev. C. Anthony Hunt is pastor at Epworth Chapel UMC in Baltimore.