We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday…Oh, Lord, deep in my soul, I know that I do believe…We shall overcome someday.”
The 50’s were a time of social activism, and my father, a college professor, was right in the center of it. I remember one cold, wintry morning when my three sisters and I were leaving for school, seeing my father returning to bed, haggard and bleary-eyed from a three-hour vigil up in Harlem, the black ghetto of New York City. He and a few comrades had strapped themselves to a bulldozer to protest the building that was to be erected by the state on that site. In those days, Stokeley Carmichael, Ralph Abernathy, figures who loomed mightily in the struggle for equality for blacks, were counted among my father’s friends. He served on school boards and governing boards; he longed to see change. He was influential in beginning the engineering union in New York City. He was a fighter, an organizer. He instilled in his four daughters, and especially in this one, the awareness that we must go beyond ourselves and do what others wouldn’t dare to do in order to bring about radical change.
It was no wonder, then, that by the time I entered college I was well on my way to becoming a social activist. It was now the 60’s, and I was drawn to the most radical anti-war and anti-establishment group on campus—SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). The Vietnam War, bloodshed on the Kent State campus, and the ever-growing generation gap infuriated me. Like everybody else, I wanted peace. The war stretched on and on; this long, interminable road of blood angered the very part of my being that believed in every man’s right to peace.
We marched on Washington. I felt justified when bricks were thrown at the government buildings. I felt justified when anti-war graffiti was scribbled on our Capitol’s buildings. The red paint spewed out the feelings of a generation of flower children turned freedom-fighters. Sometimes I wondered if our violent ways weren’t any better than the madness of the military generals. But thoughts like these were not befitting a revolutionary. I pushed them aside in search of new ways to display my anger.
We marched and marched, but to me peace was as distant as ever.
Our “troops” had demonstrated all day and were weary from shouting slogans that echoed back at us because no one was really listening. We were resting in a college office when a strange smell filtered into the room; we were being tear-gassed. Indignation welled up inside me, and yet, at the same time, I was frightened. I suddenly wanted out of this turmoil. The government was not treating us any better than they were treating the Communists. We were the enemy. They didn’t understand. Weren’t we the peaceniks? Or were we?
Why was peace still so far away?
Through all the protesting, all the postured self-assurance I was told we had a right to feel, I had many doubts. I was fighting a daily war within myself, with my own feelings of alienation from all that was beautiful and whole. I tried to be hopeful in the face of what I was coming to realize was just a hopeless cause. There wasn’t going to be any peace, at least not through my efforts. The more we marched, the louder our voices rang above the rest of the sleeping world, the more futile it all seemed. Even if this war ended, I knew another one would begin.
I realized I was putting the cart before the horse.
I needed to find peace on a personal level. It made sense that if man would come together in peace with his neighbor (I wasn’t sure of the formula; I only knew it had to happen), if only people would stop hating and start loving more, then we would all enjoy peace. But my logic was wrong again. Interpersonal relationships can’t promote world peace because real peace doesn’t start on the outside. It starts on the inside.
In all my protesting I had never thought of resting. The 50’s and 60’s were times of turmoil for many. 1972 brought peace to this one, for I was introduced to the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, whose name is Jesus. I had shouted so loud that I had never thought to be still before the Maker of everything that is good and peaceful and whole. Yet, through the eyes of God, one sees all things clearly. Man must come to a place of peace with his Creator before he can have peace with his neighbor and then with the world. Accepting Jesus the Messiah as my Peacemaker has opened my eyes to see that peace is a Person. Now I am an activist for His kingdom, seeking to share the joy that comes from knowing Him. And the song I now sing comes from the Word He has given to all mankind, if we will only stop to hear it.