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Bipartisan Group of Congressional Members in Birmingham for Civil Rights Pilgrimage

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Back row, from left: U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, (R-MI); Bethel Baptist Church Pastor Thomas Wilder. Front row, from left,: U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, (D-AL); U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, (D-SC); Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, (D-DEL). (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

More than two dozen members of the U.S. House and Senate from both sides of the aisle were at Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham’s Collegeville neighborhood on Friday as part of the Faith and Politics Institute’s (FPI) annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage retraces the footsteps of leaders and foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma who helped changed the course of American history.

“A pilgrimage is a trip where you set yourself aside from the daily, from the in-and-out, and you reflect, and you go to a place that has special significance,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). “This [historic Bethel] church, this city, this state has a special significance for our nation.”

The late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, led the historic church from 1953 to 1961, and remains one of icons from the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, wearing a T-shirt printed with a mugshot of Shuttlesworth from one of pastor’s many arrests in Birmingham, said many need to follow Shuttleworth’s example.

“There is still continued work to do. [This shirt is significant] … because Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth understood civil disobedience more than most, arrested 35 times, between the 1940s and 1960s…and I wear it with pride because we all need to be like Fred,” Woodfin said.

“Being here at Bethel has been very special for all of us. It’s a time for us to reflect on the past, to feel renewed and inspired for the ‘good trouble’ that we need to do now,” said Sewell, nodding to Lewis’ “good trouble” catchphrase.

US Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) said, “Being here at Bethel has been very special for all of us. It’s a time for us to reflect on the past, to feel renewed and inspired for the ‘good trouble’ that we need to do now,” said Sewell, nodding to Lewis’ “good trouble” catchphrase.

In addition to Coons, Woodfin and Sewell, Representatives John Moolenaar (R-MI-02), Jim Clyburn (D-SC-06) and FPI CEO Rob Wilson-Black were participants in a delegation of about 25 leaders.

Rev. Thomas Wilder, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville.

Bringing the bipartisan delegation to Bethel, Sewell said, gave an opportunity to show others Alabama’s “rich” Civil Rights history that must be told by Alabamians.

“I’ve always said that we have to embrace our history, the good and the bad, because if we don’t tell our stories, other people will, and they won’t get it right,” Sewell said.

Since 1998 the Faith & Politics Institute has led more than 300 members of the U.S. House and Senate with the late Rep. John Lewis (GA-05), a Troy, Alabama native and Civil Rights titan, who formerly co-chaired FPI from 1997 until his death in 2020.

Clyburn, a friend of Lewis’ since the age of 19, said he and Lewis’ 28-year service together in the House is the result of the work of those like Shuttlesworth.

“One of the most memorable things to me is when I got a phone call from [Shuttlesworth], telling me that I was being honored in the museum [at Bethel], and I came here to be with him on that occasion,” the Rep. said.

Rev. Thomas Wilder, current pastor of Bethel, said he was grateful to have the visitors “in our house” and urged them to come back in the future.