Thursday, February 09, 2012


I just watched an excellent program about the Freedom Riders on PBS's American Experience. I confess I don't remember a lot about 1961 - I was just shy of my third birthday when all this took place - so I was glad to learn more about it and glad my daughter was watching with me.

This program was riveting for both my daughter and for me as we watched the story play out, day by day, told by the Freedom Riders and others involved. They shared their memories as black and white films and photos of the actual events were shown, taking us step by step through the whole story of these brave young people who helped to change a country.

We saw white officials in the South explaining that segregation of the races was the best thing for everyone and how it was wrong for these agitators to interfere and try to make trouble for everybody. Their basic message was, "If you want to mix the races in your state that's your business but we don't do things that way around here. It's against the natural order of things. Down here, everybody knows their place. It's best to leave well enough alone."

But of course, the Freedom Riders didn't leave well enough alone.

Because they knew people were just people, regardless of the color of their skin.

And the Constitution says people have rights.

Southern whites expounding on the natural order of the races as a great universal truth did not speak for all white people. The plan of the Freedom Riders was for white people and black people to travel together. They all knew that they were likely to be hurt, perhaps even killed for defying the Jim Crow laws of the South.

They also knew that nothing would change if they did nothing.

I understand that the Southern segregationists were afraid of change. They were afraid that they would no longer be able to control their society and that their status in their communities would be lost. They were fighting for their way of life.

But their way of life was wrong.

Because people are just people.

And the Constitution says people have rights.

After watching this program I saw that some of my friends on Twitter had been having a heated discussion about same sex marriage with a person who called herself Christian. This person said "I am a Christian so I know marriage is between a man and a woman."

My first thought was, I am a Christian and that person does not speak for me.

How many different Christian denominations can you name? How many different types of churches do you pass every day in your city? Some worship on Sundays, some on Saturday. Some dress up to go to church, some come as they are. Some allow women to preach and teach and some do not. Some welcome gays and lesbians and allow them to serve in any capacity while others close their doors to them.

There are many different types of Christians.

When I was growing up, everyone in my extended family was a Baptist minister or married to one. Every Sunday when I went to church I learned that "God is love".  I heard my mother sing hymns as she went about her housework when no one else was looking. And at bedtime my family gathered on the big bed I shared with my sister and read the Bible and prayed together.

The Truth that God is love was everywhere in my world.

I am white and I am Christian. Those who call themselves Christian who speak with words of hate do not speak for me any more than white segregationists do.

I know some who oppose same sex marriage will say they don't hate gay people. So what is it called when you see someone as less valuable, their relationships less meaningful, their families less legitimate than your own? Why can't they enjoy the same protection under the law that heterosexual couples do? Why do they have to jump through legal hoops to protect their rights as parents? Why is their relationship not recognized by the law even though they've been committed to each other for decades, raising children together, while others are allowed to marry and divorce as often as the seasons change?

It doesn't matter if your religious beliefs say that their relationship is sinful. There are those who believe it is sinful for women to wear make-up or pants. Should that change their status under the law? Whatever your religious beliefs are you can find someone who doesn't believe the way you do. Your religious beliefs are your own but the law is for everyone.

Barbara Jordan, black Congresswoman from Texas, made a statement to the House Judiciary Committee in 1974  and she spoke of the Constitution:

"Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: 'We, the people.' It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that 'We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in 'We, the people.'"

There was a time when slavery was legal in America.
But we learned and the law was changed.

There was a time when racial segregation was legal in America.
But we learned and the law was changed.

There was a time when inter-racial marriage was illegal in America.
But we learned and the law was changed.

Each time the laws were changed opponents were dragged kicking and screaming into the future that we know now. But no matter how hard they fought it, change was inevitable.

I believe there will come a day when we will tell a new generation about the struggle to legalize same sex marriage. And they will shake their heads in disbelief that people once opposed it just as my children couldn't understand why anyone would want racial segregation.

Maya Angelou said "When you know better you do better."

It's time for us to do better.


  1. Thank you for writing this. These words could mean a lot to many different people :-) And I hope they all read it.

  2. Donna, your blog is magnificent. My mom and dad were both politically active. My dad was in Wash.,DC for Dr King's I Have a Dream speech.Believe or not, he made sure our whole family became lifetime members of the NAACP (we're Caucasian and my Dad was Jewish)!I'm still a proud member.So glad you included Barbara Jordan's powerful statement about the Constitution.If she were here today,I think she'd be appalled at the nonsense going on over Prop.8.I thank you and Dub for being open-minded and enlightened people and sharing your insights on social media.It gives me hope. Oh, I'm @sparcharge on Twitter.

  3. I really don't know what else to say to you, other than thank you!

  4. I don't know what else to say, other than, thank you!

  5. Donna,
    I love the way you write Thank you for posting this, and for your heartfelt words.

  6. Donna,
    I love the way you write. Thanks for posting this and thanks for your heartfelt words. I love your quote from Barbara Jordan, whose way of speaking I will never forget.
    @Carolyn1202a on Twitter

  7. Lovely blog, Donna. We have different histories. A lot of the Underground Railroad ( that transported African Americans into Canada and northern US states that were to avoid persecution in the US from slavery.

    In terms of social progress, in 1982, the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms ( With regards to same sex marriage, it was challenged in the provincial  courts of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec first in 2003 on the grounds of equality rights in Section 15 of the Charter, and against discrimination. They were the first three provinces that got the right to same sex marriage. Then, as provinces each faced legal cases before the provincial courts to gain equality rights. In 2005, under the Martin Liberal minority goverrnment, he had the support of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois, and despite of most of the Consesrvative Party of Canada, a law was brought in and was passed allowing same sex marriage. For more info:

    I don't know how much coverage of Canadian news/politics you get in your area, but we haven't had much in the way of backlash in the past 5.5yrs since the law was brought in. There was a brief quibble a few weeks ago, with regards to a gay couple wishing to get divorced, which addressed the issue of non-Canadian residents who got married here when it became legal. But it was then addressed by our Conservative majority Prime Minister, who publicly stated that the government would not be readdressing the issue in parliament. The language of the law would be looked at to make it clearer.

    All said, our society hasn't been negatively affected by having same sex marriage nationally. Hopefully the US will see the light sooner than later. :)

  8. Your open mind is equally matched by your open heart, both are appreciated - Val

  9. I watched Freedom Riders just the other night. One of the men was complaining " People in the South felt, ... there are people who come on the TV in my own living room and tell me that I'm a redneck, and I'm a racist, and I'm all of these things... ". Now we're hearing nearly word-for-word the same complaints from the people who can't stand the notion of gay people having equal rights, and who don't like their bigotry being called what it is.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  10. So well said, I'm sharing the link right now...

  11. Great post! This is all about civil rights. When I hear some of the rhetoric in Washington right now, about how they're going to put marriage equality up to a vote, I want to shout that you can't vote on civil rights.

    Someday, I hope that my friends can enjoy all of the comforts, responsibilities, benefits and protections that marriage can offer, without having to go to another country to do that.

  12. One day we wil have our turn. Susan and I got married in Iowa and live in Illinois which recognizes oour union. We have to file joint returns in Illinois, but we have to file seperate federal returns which makes it a chore but so worth it. Someday..All the haters may say things, but they will not deter me adn my wife from living a loving, prosperous life as a family with our children. They wil have to pry our marriage certificate from the state of Iowa out of my dead fingers before they win! Thank you Donna.

  13. "neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee."

    Just how often do people pay attention to that line from Leviticus? Yet, these same people use Bible quotes out of context to defend their hatred.

    The irony for me is that how many of these freedom riders don't see that gays and lesbians are also fighting for our *civil rights*. Our issue is somehow different. Marriage equality is not the only fight or battle we are facing: in many states, gays and lesbians may be fired or lose their homes merely for being gay or lesbian. Gay and lesbian youth are bullied (and have a very high suicide rate) just for being who they are.

    Thank you Donna, for putting the issue out there, and reminding us just how similar those two battles are.