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Bringing the Movement Home: A civil rights story of the Midwest

Kemmerle, Peter

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ISBN 10: 1517060710 / ISBN 13: 9781517060718
Editorial: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
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Título: Bringing the Movement Home: A civil rights ...

Editorial: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Encuadernación: PAPERBACK

Condición del libro:New

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This story is part history and part memoir. It concerns my father, a Presbyterian minister, and what he went through during the period 1957 to 1970, when he gave himself wholeheartedly to move his middle-class, Midwestern congregations into action on behalf of the oppressed. In the course of events, my father was arrested, with twelve other white ministers from the North, in 1964, in Pike County, Mississippi, while protesting the county’s refusal to register black voters. He spent one night in jail. The protest was in and out of the national news quickly, but it had a large impact on the town to which he returned, Athens, Ohio. He became the locus of controversy, a stand-in for the civil rights movement, and his church became the stage on which the struggle was played out in Athens. The story begins in Westerville, Ohio, in November 1957, with the performance of a minstrel show. It was a fundraiser performed by local citizens to benefit the varsity sports teams of the local college, Otterbein, and it was performed in Otterbein’s auditorium, just down the street from First Presbyterian Church, of which my father was pastor. He thought minstrel shows were self-evidently bad and that it was his duty to say so. He wrote a column in the local newspaper upbraiding the citizenry for supporting the minstrel show. He was not naive. And yet he was surprised by the reaction. Public opinion strongly favored it. Members of his church were scandalized not by the minstrel show but by his speaking against it. With the brouhaha that followed publication of his newspaper column, my father gained three things: a reputation as an advocate for civil rights, the understanding that his ministry would provoke conflict, and his own commitment to go ahead with his eyes open. He was eventually forced to leave the Westerville church. His next pastorate was at First Presbyterian Church of Athens, a small city with a large university some eighty miles southeast of Columbus. He arrived in January 1963 resolved to engage the congregation and himself in the civil rights movement as deeply as possible. This story tells the story of my father’s attempt to do this, and its consequences. I’ve been telling this story all my adult life—every month or two for the last forty-five years, I’d guess, usually a three-minute version. Besides being a kind of personal cornerstone story for me, I’ve always thought it had merit on its own as an exemplary story of the 1960s, the decade in which I passed my adolescence. Ever since then I’ve been promising myself that I would some day take the full measure of this story. This is it.

About the Author:

I was born in 1951, the height of the baby boom, and was raised in small Midwestern towns. I came of age in the 1960s in Athens, Ohio. I graduated with a degree in English from Brown University in 1974. I lived in New York, N.Y. from 1977 to 1985. I was employed by U.S. Department of Labor as a workers’ compensation claims examiner (the same job Franz Kafka had in Prague in the 1880s). During the same period, I volunteered at a neighborhood center for the Latin American community near Times Square. Friendships I made there, especially with Salvadorans and Guatemalans, radicalized me. In 1985, I moved to Nicaragua to work as a long-term volunteer with Witness for Peace. In 1986 and 1987, I worked with my future wife, Maria Arroyo, in a development project for war refugees in Nicaragua. We coordinated the construction of houses, schools, latrines, cooperatives, and water systems for a thousand families in ten refugee camps. In 1988 and 1989, Maria and I lived in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. I wrote a book about our two years in Nicaragua while Maria worked at a cultural center for indigenous peoples. Maria and I were married in March 1989, and in June of the same year, we were sent by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to work for ISER, a religious studies institute in Rio de Janeiro. Our son Daniel was born the next year in Rio. In 1991, we moved to the sertão, the semi-arid region of the northeast of Brazil, to work with CEDITER, a religious NGO that defends the rights of landless peasants. In March of 1994, we adopted our second son, Luiz. During our four years with CEDITER, we lived in the small rural town of Rui Barbosa, Bahia, and served as advisors to unions of rural workers, associations of small producers, and groups of landless families. I have told that story in another place. In early March, 1995, we returned to the United States for an indefinite period to have diagnostic studies done and treatment prescribed for our son, Daniel. When we found that Daniel had autism, we decided to stay in the United States. I worked on the staff of the national offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from 1996 until 2010.

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