Give Us a Moment to Kneel and Pray

Newseum Selma-1965

“And the young man walking beside me, who was working with Dr. King, said, ‘Major, give us a moment to kneel and pray.’


And the major said, ‘Troopers advance.’”


~ Congressman John Lewis, remembering Selma

A young man stood beside John Lewis, that March day in 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Major John Clyde of the Alabama State Troopers was facing them, in a “sea of blue”-coated officers.

Confronting these waves of intimidation and fear, this young man felt his spine reach up to the heavens, and deep down into the earth.

He  knew the time had come to say grace. And perhaps he did, in the seconds before impact. But soon the troopers were upon them, and any muffled words for mercy and strength were lost.

Now, looking back on Selma from a distance of fifty years, I would like us to imagine this young man’s unheard prayer and speak it out loud.

See them now, in your mind’s eye.

Hundreds of marchers, in tidy work clothes, some in their Sunday best, kneel on the bridge in unison. A young man, his name now lost to history, leads them in prayer…


Dear Lord, dear Kind One

whose steady hands we feel


on our bowed backs

like new spring sun –


we ask for nothing but to see,

within this sea of fear that surrounds us,


the unborn souls who hover close

and allow us to glimpse


through a chink in their fingers


the beloved country we are calling up

from the deeps of our blood


and claiming here, on this bridge, this day.


This land, sown with pearls

of stolen sweat, jewels of secret pain


is promised to the meek, the stranger,

the outcast.


I hear you say, O Life,

this means it is promised to us all.


Help us see you, even in the faces

blurred with hate, crashing down upon us


as huge but powerless waves: we know,

O Source, the taste of salt upon our lips


and welcome with gladness

these waves of blue washing us


clean of fear and shadow

and revealing to us the light cast


in broken human form: give praise!


I close my eyes and see a smile wake in the face

of my sleeping child, sleeping in her bed


under the oak branches in Selma.


She is dreaming, O Light, and her smile

is Us. We are the sign, in this world,


of my daughter’s dream – a visible

proof of all the beauty


that brings her

in the darkness of sleep


such joy.


Dear Friend, I feel your hands

on my back as a burning brand –


a burning brand

turning my shoulders


into wings.


See how they unfurl

and shelter us all!


My wings stretch and open

in the hot noon sun


and allow me to stand

on this bridge


and withstand

whatever comes.



Coretta Scott King,John Lewis,





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