In 1965, a tall, slender white man with a full head of jet black hair arrived in Selma, Alabama expecting to meet clients during his scheduled appointments to sell hearing aids. RC Hester worked as a traveling salesman and on this particular day in March of 1965, he found himself unable to get to his appointments because of the number of people in town. Thousands of people and all of their vehicles and the police and the journalists, none of which he had expected when he set off for Selma that day.
This seems unreal to us now. We carry around pocket sized computers notifying us of any and all events in our cities, states, and the world. Our cable news stations shout at us while scrolls of words run along the bottom. And if those sources manage to escape our attention, our beloved social media apps are ready and eager to keep us updated on the exciting events of every.single.minute.
Yet, on that day in 1965, my granddad, RC Hester, stood still, stunned in the middle of a city in the middle of a movement in the middle of history and all he needed to do was move through to make his sales appointments.
I imagine Granddaddy wondering around, looking lost and frustrated and maybe even scared. His livelihood depended on him making these sales. How was he going to do that if he couldn’t get to his appointments? Who were all these people? What was going on and when would it be over?
Then, as he stood, still, unable to move, bewildered and frustrated, two older African-American women saw him and asked him what he was doing. He explained his situation and they invited him to join the march so he could walk to where he needed to go.
Granddaddy agreed and joined the march. Walking in a space he described as feeling odd and out of place, he got where he needed to go. And was grateful.
Still, they invited…
In my mind, I can see these women, wearing their Sunday best skirt and jacket, with maybe a pill box hat. Purses on their arms, handkerchiefs in their hands. Joining thousands walking in protest with the almost certain expectation of retribution.
What had they seen in their lives? This was 1965. Oh, the possibilities and oh, how my heart breaks over those.
Yet, in all I suspect they had seen and endured and survived, they saw my grandfather, a white man and possibly, a white man who might want to put an end to this movement, this march, all together, and still, they invited him.
More than twenty years have passed since my granddaddy told me this story for a college history paper. He died shortly after, leaving that one interview with him as the only time we discussed this event. I have thought about this story several times over recent years as horrible, tragic, confusing events popped up on my handheld computer, on news sources, and social media sights, the latest in Charlottesville, VA. Every time I think through Granddaddy’s story, I try to visualize what is impossible to correctly imagine and I am continually amazed by two things: a white man accidentally marched in the Selma to Montgomery March and he did so because two African-American women invited him along.
All because they invited…
Back when I interviewed him for my paper, he began his story by telling me he was born into an incredibly racist family. His parents not only talked about segregation but celebrated it. However, he says he didn’t remember feeling superior to anyone. Poor white children lived a lot like poor black children in his world. He witnessed the Montgomery Bus Boycott from his college classrooms, listening to teachers voice their dismay and fear, while he and the other students were more introspective and listening to what the Boycott had to say.
Later in life, after his accidental March, Granddaddy worked with low-income families helping to send their children to college. My grandmother spent most of her career teaching English to students in Tutwiler Prison for Women. Granddaddy and Grandmother sacrificed their own needs to bring her students food or toiletries, often when they were barely paying their own household bills. My mother taught kindergarten and first grade to inner city school children, staying after school to tutor students and serving on committees to improve and expand the school lunch program.
Many spoke love and truth and Jesus into my parent’s lives as they were growing up. People like my Great Grandfather, GL Faulker, who raised my mother to love unconditionally. But my Grandfather did not have those voices. He was reared in an environment that celebrated racial superiority.
When asked, when invited, when given the chance to walk, he said yes.
Certainly, his needs were met by the women’s invitation, because he made it to his appointments but he also witnessed change. He marched alongside the needy and forgotten and rejected and in doing so, I believe he was forever changed. And that might just have been the change God used to alter the legacy of his family forever.
Waiting by the mailbox…
In all of my life, no one has personally invited me to join anyone in the pursuit of racial reconciliation. No one has seen me, looking a little lost and confused and scared on the sidelines, and asked me to join them in marching with thousands towards being seen and heard. And maybe, that’s what I was expecting or needing to add my voice to theirs because doing so without an invitation feels odd and out of place.
Does anyone really need my voice? What could I possibly bring to the march? And would I be welcomed anyway?
Maybe you’re waiting too? Waiting on your invitation? Not so sure you belong and feeling like you should stand on the sidelines?
Friend, here’s the truth, we have already been invited. As Jesus-followers, we received our very own invitation, one God sent us so long ago, one we do not have to wait to find it in our mailbox or in an Evite or accept on social media. An invitation to see Jesus. To learn more of the Father’s heart. To be changed by the love and kindness and joy of the Spirit. On Tuesday, let’s meet back here to discuss His invitation and maybe finding our way to accepting it.
But for today, I am simply grateful for that paper I had to write in college. Not sure I would have heard this story from my grandfather without the assignment.
Grateful my grandfather agreed to march, even in his uncomfortable space. If nothing else, even accidentally, his tall, white presence marching alongside his older, new-found friends in their Sunday best, he spoke. His presence added a voice.
I am grateful for two courageous women who saw a man in need of direction. They looked past his race and saw a person in need. So they invited him to join them in marching to a solution, and that their invitation still stands for me over fifty years later.
Grateful God’s word is living and inviting and changing my heart in radical ways. Asking me to join Him, not because the people I may march alongside need me (they don’t), but because what He knows I need is more of Him. Read His word and love His people and in doing those things, I am changed.
On Tuesday, I will offer those of us who aren’t sure how to begin, aren’t certain what they even need to know, those who want more of Jesus and His love in their lives, some beginning steps. Every great change with Jesus begins with one step at a time. Our steps towards understanding and compassion and lending our voices to the march begins now. And unlike my grandfather, we will take our steps off the sidelines with intentionality and transparency and fully-surrendered in gratitude to a Father who loves us.