By Kayla Jackson
Sunday, February 17
Like a Tree Planted by the Water
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
One of my favorite songs is based on a portion of the scripture found in today’s reading from Jeremiah. The song “We Shall Not be Moved,” is possibly best known as a freedom song. Music and singing played a significant role in inspiring, empowering, and giving voice to the Civil Rights Movement. The songs and chants of the movement were often deemed “freedom songs,” many of which were derived from African American spirituals and hymns.
The lyrics of “We Shall Not be Moved,” proclaim: Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved. This proclamation can be taken a number of ways. Sometimes it was in the literal sense like when Black student leaders in Greensboro, North Carolina protested racial segregation at Woolworth department stores through lunch counter sit-ins. Protestors refused to move from the lunch counter until they were given the service they were vehemently denied solely because of the color of their skin. On the other hand, it can be understood as a people and movement securely rooted in its faith. With their eyes on the prize of justice and equality, and led by their faith and trust in God, leaders and foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement fought hard to stay course and not be discouraged or set astray. In college I was blessed with a life changing opportunity to immerse myself in this important piece of not only Black, but U.S. History.
My junior year in undergrad I participated in what we called a Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Over the duration of the weeklong trip, we visited key locations in the Civil Rights Movement: Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta, and Memphis, stopping at several museums and historic sites along the way. While on our pilgrimage, we also visited many churches: Brown Chapel, Dexter Ave Baptist Church, 16th Street Baptist Church, Christ the King. The Civil Rights Movement is remembered as a movement spearheaded by remarkable pastors and ministers like King, Abernathy, and Shuttlesworth.
The church played, and continues to play a significant role in Black communities. Because of segregation, Black churches served many purposes, with place of worship being just one of many. They functioned as meeting places and social centers, practically the glue that held many Black communities together. It wasn’t so much about the building itself, but what it stood for and what was accomplished within and beyond its walls. The message of the movement was seamlessly woven into Sunday sermons making the movement both political and religious.
Every step along the pilgrimage, I learned something new, but most importantly, I did some vital unlearning. I began to view my history in a new light, and in return I began to view myself in a new light. A positive one. This experience also instilled in me great gradititue for the men, women, and children who came before me and gave their voices, blood, sweat, and tears. They are the trees. They are the trees planted by the water whose hearts and eyes could not be shifted from visions of justice and equality. They are the trees with roots firmly planted in what their hearts and faith knew to be true. They are the trees that did not fear or distress over the heat and drought created by the racial segregation and inequality that governed the times. They are the trees that, through resilience and determination, bore fruit. Fruits that I and many have enjoyed. The march continues. We have not yet reached the “Promised Land” of which King preached. We aren’t done yet. Plant your roots and stand firm in the everlasting pursuit of justice.