It is a one mile walk from the the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Confederate Memorial erected in 1866 by the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association (ALMA)in Oakland Cemetery In the spring of 1999 13 White Southern Women including 2 members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, planted "A Labyrinth of rue for pilgrimages of repentance for sons and sweethearts who were sent to die, and too, to kill. For evil is dead spirit's face refusing death until buried with dignity and grace. Yet grace awaits them still. For grace awaits repentence for the sins that purchase pride and dignity, now as before, the sin filled price denied.
A Maze engraves how swains 'tho sons to slaves are wrought by greed. Renounce and lose but naught to save the soul, repair the creed."
In 1999, 12 white southern women from Birmingham and Atlanta planted a labyrinth of rue on the plot just inside the gate of Oakland Cemetery, where the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association (precursor of the United Daughters of the Confederay) had obtained permission and materials from the Union occupying army to rebury in dignity the corpses killed in the Battle of Atlanta
April 4, 2020: Facebook's algorithm's are amazing. Pic of Mary watering Rue plants 1999 showed up when I opened my computer yesterday. I had begun a letter to Congressman Lewis who was very ill before the virus hit, the day before, asking for his blessing to have the Rue Bricks relaid along a path for pilgrimages of repentance from reflecting pond around the the tomb of Coretta and Martin King to confederate graves a mile away. I worked on the Rue Project from 1996 to 2002 in Atlanta.
In Birmingham I had tried between 1990 and 1993 to organise what Del Hamilton told me is called a "civic ritual performance" on the Sunday of Labor Day closest to September 15, the day Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were murdered in 1963. I envisioned the adult and children's choirs from at least one black church and at least one white church, coming through the streets singing stanzas of Amazing Grace in call and response, to meet at the foot washing pond in Kelly Ingram Park, across from 16th Baptist Church where the children were killed.
As each black adult and child met each white adult and child on the bridge crossing the pond, I saw the little white children giving the black adults flowers of Rue (for repentance); the little black children giving the white adults Loosestrife (forgiveness). Then they'd re-pair, black and white children, black and white adults to finish the pilgrimage down the walk, across the street, into 16th St Baptist Church for an ecumenical ceremony along the lines I had had success organizing for children in 1987. No one ever opposed my effort to enlist the choirs to realise my vision. But I never succeeded.
We moved to Berkeley in '93 and came back South in 1996, when in trying to convince Glenda Minkin to help, I'd noted 'while Catholics have confession, Jews's highest holy day is for atonement, and Muslims devote a whole month to repentance, the only ritual path provided in the religion of white protestant slave owners and their heirs is 'the general confession', so general it covers everything from forgetting to write a thank you note to throwing your fellow humans into the bowels of a ship to survive in their urine and faces. (Episcopal prayer book -- my father's side. My mother's side, Presbyterian predestination is even better adapted to guilt denial) Glenda, who is Jewish replied not exactly in these words, but this is the import I recall, "Peggy, when you enter the path of Atonement, there is no guarantee you will be forgiven, and certainly no little white gal who just wanted to be part of The Movement is going to choreograph when and how black people choose to forgive."
So, I set out to find a path to confess the racism I'd recognised in myself and express repentance for the fruits of racism I continue to receive as racism continues to mutate; and to get other white southern women I knew who'd made efforts to free themselves from racism to join me. Instead of competing with each other to prove how anti-racist we were to our black friends, we would make a path for other whites to admit and renounce racism by admitting and renouncing our own.
I did not have making Reparation on my mind. I think that tells how far I still had and have yet to go. It merely opened my heart to the need for it and that it was not for me to say how, when or whether.
And I do not think I am alone. Commitment to anti-racism is not the same as being freed from racism if you're white, any more than winning victories against racism frees you from being a victim of racism if you're black. The most making a pilgrimage of rue, ie of repentance, can do is "renounce the sins that purchase pride and dignity NOW as before," by quiting denying that they are sins,ie confession. and try to repair one's soul by repairing the consequences of greed that the old creed justified, minimised, and overlooked as easily as an unwritten thank you.
Maybe it's about time I think of Reparations as long overdue I.O.U. thank you notes. Taking note of some specifics of what for, for rather far more than "a lovely evening. the charlotte russe was to die for" Renoucing precludes erasing. And if you erase, you can never repair.
My son gave me Coates' book of essays a couple of Christmases ago (2018) It's still on my bedstand. Not because I revisit it frequently, but because I barely skimmed it and think I should It included his 2014 essay in the Atlantic on Reparations. People often cite it. I just clicked and skimmed that again.
I joined C.U.R.E.(Caucasians United for Reparation and Emancipation) on-line for a few years after the big 2002 Pilgrimage of Rue that ended in the ecumenical ceremony at the Ebenezer Baptist Church that is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Saudia Muwwakkil helped us get permission to hold the ceremony there. She was still employed by the National Park Service to do public relations for the center.It meant a lot to La Donna Smith who composed a Chorale for Repentence to premier it there. Her Chorale includes the verse I added to Amazing Grace. That meant a lot to me. More than half the participants in the pilgrimage walk were members of the Birminhgam Women's Chorus that La Donna leads.
This essay from the pespective of black children of white children's mammies hit me, inescapably, as neither Coates nor CURE had. Whether or not anything I add here proves moving or insightful to anyone who happens upon it, the best lesson I recommend taking from it, I was taught by Marion Woods, Black Preacher's Wife to Birmingham SCLC chair, Dr. Abraham Woods. It's well known and practiced by all good organizers, but as an organizee rather than organizer, I recommend tracing the methodology to black preachers' wives. "If you want people to show up, give them a role to perform." That's why there are so many choirs at Movement rallies.
When I was growing up, white in the South (Texas, Ark, La, 1938 - 68) my primary positive bond with African-Americans was with black women who cooked and cleaned for white women and helped care for their children. I'm sure that was true of every white I knew. I may come back and insert examples.
updated April 4, 2020 Now quarantining in Indianola, TX Please feel free to use anything here and I'll be honored if you do but please include a link to peggydobbins.net