The first week in May is an annual reminder of what became known in the civil rights movement as D-Day, May 2, 1963. This was the first day of the “Children’s Crusade” in which thousands of elementary through high school aged children participated in non-violent direct action during the Birmingham campaign to desegregate public accommodations. Most Americans have seen images of police dogs and fire hoses used against the protesters. What many people do not know or realize is that this violent response by those wanting to maintain segregation was directed mostly at children. By remaining non-violent in the face of oppression and arrest, the images struck the conscience of the nation and resulted in changes to legal segregation laws that were seen as a permanent “way of life’ in Birmingham. The non-violent training and spiritual foundation for the witness of the children and adults in the Birmingham campaign was summarized in a commitment card that each person signed before participating in any direct action. In his book Why We Can’t Wait about the pivotal year of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included a copy of that card. Here are the commitments they made then and that still serve as a foundation for Christian faith-based witness for justice today:
I HEREBY PLEDGE MYSELF - MY PERSON AND BODY - TO THE NON-VIOLENT MOVEMENT. THEREFORE I WILL KEEP THE FOLLOWING TEN COMMANDMENTS:
MEDITATE daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
REMEMBER always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation - not victory.
WALK and TALK in the manner of love, for God is love.
PRAY daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
SACRIFICE personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
OBSERVE with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world
REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, and heart.
STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
FOLLOW the directions of the movement and of the captain of a demonstration
I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.
The video posted below features some of the original D-Day participants. How can we benefit from their witness and continue to build on that legacy of commitment to justice today?