A lot of well meaning people assume that the Civil Rights struggle is over and that we won, said Alexander Gee Jr., during an afternoon dialogue event at NOAC 2015. “We don’t talk about it in seminary, in churches, or from the pulpit,” he said. “Like polio or tuberculosis, we say we’ve solved it!”
However, Gee warned the NOAC audience of older adults: “You’re the generation that watched the Civil Rights struggle, but for your children and your grandchildren this is ancient history. Honor your legacy.”
Gee, who hails from Madison, Wis., is founder and president of the Nehemiah Urban Leadership Institute and senior pastor and founder of Fountain of Life Family Worship Center, and the leading Black clergy in Madison. But in the wake of a series of murders involving young black men, he wrote an op-ed piece for a Madison newspaper that attracted national attention and a firestorm of controversy.
He suggested, out of bitter personal experience of incidents with local police, that much work remained to be done in the Civil Rights struggle. “We thought we solved that in the ’60s,” he said. “In my experience it’s still going on.”
In one incident, police accosted him in the parking lot of his own church. “They told me I fit the profile of a drug dealer,” he said, when he was pulled over for wearing a nice suit and driving a good car. Such personal experiences, he said, illustrate the discrepancies in life experience between white and Black.
“When I was growing up they told me to go to university, get a job, and keep my nose clean,” he said. But all of a person’s achievements in education, experience, reputation, and status in the community goes out the window in a society where skin color affects every interaction, particularly with law enforcement.
Dr. Gee appeared on the NOAC stage with Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries for the Church of the Brethren. The two became close friends after participating in a program that intentionally pairs individuals for a cross-cultural experience of visiting site iconic to the Civil Rights movement.
He praised the NOAC audience for having been participants in the Civil Rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s. He said that when he was criticized nationally for suggesting that a model community like Madison might be “Ground Zero of racial inequities,” it was individuals in their 70s and 80s who came to his support.
“We know we have not finished this fight yet.”