Fifteen members of St. Anthony Park UCC (St. Paul) spent eight days in October in the Deep South. The Civil Rights-intensive trip was led by Mark & Leslie Swiggum of Edina Community Lutheran Church. The Swiggums have been leading these trips during their retirement years as part of their deep commitment to anti-racism work and racial justice.
The group spent time in Alabama (Anniston, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery), Mississippi (Philadelphia, Greenwood, Money, Glendora, Sumner, Ruleville, Clarksdale) and Tennessee (Memphis). According to St. Anthony Park’s Rev. Victoria Wilgocki, “The sites, the history, the land, the songs, the images, the ghosts, the churches, churches, churches (!) and above all, the people we met profoundly changed us.”
Wilgocki says what made the experience so remarkable is that the group met with numerous “foot soldiers” – women and men, now in their 70s and 80s, who were on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. “They told stories of growing up during Jim Crow,” she says. “They sang freedom songs and invited us to sing with them. They spoke not with bitterness, but with humility, sorrow, pride, humor and hope. They continue to work and pray for the communities in which they live.”
In the photo above, the group is pictured with one of the “foot soldiers” – Bishop Calvin Woods, age 90 (front row, center) – in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. “Several other young Black people pictured happened to be passing through the park at the time, so we invited them to join us in listening to Calvin’s stories,” Wilgocki says. “At the end, we linked elbows and sang ‘We Shall Overcome.'”