The Unitarian Universalist participation in the fiftieth anniversary observances is Selma, Alabama this last weekend leaves me with mixed feelings. Happy for those that found it moving, and I’m usually heartened when Unitarian Universalists turn up and participate with others. Less so when I think about the focus on James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo because, despite their deaths, the work then and now is not about them. Or, put another way, would there have been as much of an outpouring if they hadn’t died? And then there’s return of the Baby Boomer lens of history, that makes events of the 1960s more real and important than other times. And the typical trope of the South among Unitarian Universalists as “other” — one I feel deeply as a native Southerner. Selma calls for unrivalled attention, but we just passed the fortieth anniversary of the Boston busing riots that passed without a peep.
We don’t even have a church in Selma. The nearest one is in Montgomery. But that wasn’t always true. I knew from my long-abandoned thesis work that the Universalists migrated across the middle of the deep South — through the Black Belt — and indeed in 1840 there was a church in Selma, though it probably didn’t last long. (The preacher was unfellowshipped, and new to Universalism.)
But my point is the same: to escape the peril of exoticism, live where you work and work where you live. Be not tourists, but companions. Be present in the place. Show up daily, not every fifty years.