Of Many Things

The distance from Stone Mountain, Ga., to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta is approximately 15 miles, or about 150 years. If you’re ever in that neck of the woods, as I was this summer, I suggest that you see both sites on the same day. For one thing, the road between them meanders through some lovely country, the sort of hazy, idyllic charm a New Englander like me expects to find during August in the Deep South. More important, though, the journey from Stone Mountain, with its mammoth carved memorial to the leaders of the Confederacy, and the Carter Center, with its living commitment to peace and reconciliation, is a journey through the lights and shadows of American history: from Lee, Jackson and Davis to Carter, King and Mandela.

My own trip was especially poignant because this summer marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, that seminal gathering on the National Mall that at last awoke the conscience of this country and confirmed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the moral leader of his time. Stone Mountain, in fact, is one of the places Dr. King mentioned specifically in his speech: “And if America is to be a great nation this must become true,” he said. “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

Advertisement

If you look carefully at the newsreel footage of the March, you might be able to pick out an elderly, bespectacled, white Catholic cleric standing a couple of dozen feet behind Dr. King. That cleric is actually a Jesuit, the sixth editor in chief of America, John LaFarge. On that day in 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Father LaFarge witnessed the culmination of his lifelong efforts for racial reconciliation. When he returned to New York, just three months before he died at the age of 83, Father LaFarge described in these pages what he saw as Dr. King spoke his immortal words:

In the view of...the veteran and deeply religious A. Philip Randolph, the nationwide March for Jobs and Freedom was no place for any note of violence and hate. And neither was in evidence during the entire program. It was as tranquil and inevitable as God’s providence itself, with the majesty and power of an apocalyptic vision. This was the only expression that occurred to my mind, as I gazed over the immense throng stretching all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the distant Washington Monument—a humbly yet proudly rejoicing multitude of Negroes and whites, responding magically to speakers and singers alike.

Sustaining this immense outpouring was a twofold certainty: that the demonstration’s aims were completely reasonable, in line with the nation’s oldest and best traditions; and that these aims were certain of fulfillment. The certainty was born of American pride in our country and its heritage. And the marchers were claiming their heritage. As in ancient Israel, their hope was in the God of justice and love. Henceforth nothing could stop their progress until the “dream” so eloquently hailed by the final speaker, Dr. Martin Luther King, should be fully realized.

The Aug. 28 March was but a beginning, a summons to unceasing effort. The hour is bound to come—and the less delay the better—when North and South alike will set a final seal upon its simple goal of jobs and freedom for all citizens—yes for all.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Craig McKee
4 years 8 months ago
Also not to be missed in that neck of the woods is that wonderful piece of living church history: the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA! Their new WELCOME CENTER offers a trip down memory lane of both American monasticism and Southern Catholicism.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Chilean clerical sex abuse survivors Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo in Rome, May 2. The three met Pope Francis individually at the Vatican April 27-29. The Vatican announced on May 22 that a second group of abuse victims will visit the pope in June (CNS photo/Paul Haring).
The encounters will take place from June 1-3 at Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where Francis lives.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 22, 2018
Pope Francis talks with Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, as they arrive for a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican in this Feb. 13, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 
Righteous call-outs should be patterned after Cardinal O’Malley’s rebuke of Pope Francis on sex abuse.
Simcha FisherMay 22, 2018
In May, my cousin Christina and her husband Tyler were murdered in their home.
John J. ConleyMay 22, 2018
Follow Father Arturo Sosa's first visit to the Jesuits in Canada!
America StaffMay 22, 2018