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 Courage = Freedom

  Selma to Montgomery

By Donna Britt

Throughout history ordinary humans have become extraordinary by reacting to danger with unimaginable courage. In every war average boys and unremarkable girls perform acts of profound riskiness that leave the rest of us gasping—and wondering: Could I be as brave?

Many of us suspect the answer is no.

Yet in the fifties and sixties, racism’s hideousness moved thousands of Americans—black and white, poor and well-off—to squander their everyday safety to participate in the bruising and bloody civil rights movement. In the Montgomery bus boycott, on the Freedom Rides, and along Selma’s march, not-terribly-special citizens transcended themselves, leaving behind jobs, mortgages, black-and-white TVs, and worried families for a sacred calling. Some never returned.

Outsize injustice often inspires outsize courage.

Things change. For most Americans, these are merely uneasy times, an era whose prosperity, technological advances, lack of clear-cut villains, and sheer busyness distract and drain them. Standing up for one’s rights is less likely to be a life-threatening proposition. Few of us confront situations like the one faced by Annie Lee Cooper, then 53, when Selma’s segregationist sheriff clubbed her in 1965. Her crime: Telling the sheriff, “Ain’t nobody scared around here.”

If not for the courage of thousands of Coopers in that era, I’m sure I wouldn’t be a nationally syndicated columnist today. Thanks to them, the “right” that I work hardest to stand up for is simply telling the truth. My truth.

Some people think they know what a columnist who’s black and female should feel. They see me as representative of them or my “group.” Sometimes it’s hard disillusioning them. It means telling black people who count on my unconditional support that they, too, can be irredeemably wrong. It requires reminding white people that the racism they feel has vanished remains—often within them. It means pointing out to women how feminism has failed us. It means being openly optimistic and spiritual in times when the cruelest cynicism is admired. It means acknowledging the uncomfortable truths about the brutalizing effects of the TV shows, movies, and video games we support.

But that’s what all those brave souls in the movement ultimately risked themselves for—the right of all Americans to fulfill their potential, to be fully who they are. They didn’t suffer so we could continue to go along to get along, or unthinkingly align ourselves with those who are most like us. The worthiness of their cause challenges me to be worthy—to be honest about who I am, even if it is unfashionable or offends those whom I love. It’s a challenge I struggle to live up to.

Telling the truth, BEING my own truth—that’s a right worth standing up for.

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