Central New York Episcopalians journey to Alabama for a Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Diocese of Central New York
Posted Mar 6, 2023

Civil Rights Pilgrims from the Diocese of Central New York walk together across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, most famous for being the location of Bloody Sunday in the first attempted Selma-to-Montgomery march on March 7, 1965.

Thirty lay and clergy members from Central New York travelled to Birmingham and Montgomery Alabama recently to add rich experiences to their understandings of the workings of white supremacy in our nation in the past and present as they look to the future.

“We didn’t have to go to Alabama to learn about individual or systemic racism,” said the Rt. Rev. DeDe Duncan Probe, bishop of the Diocese of Central New York. “Racism and white supremacy’s vile impacts are felt daily in all places and spaces, including our communities in Central New York. But we know that we must be about the work of healing with love and our pilgrims – both those onsite and those online – were able to experience the past in new ways through this journey.”

All 30 onsite pilgrims from the Diocese of Central New York stand together in Selma, Alabama, with their tour guide, Terry Chestnut.

The first-of-its kind pilgrimage for a diocese was designed to be one for the whole diocese, not just those who were able to travel to Alabama. It is part of the Diocese of Central New York’s two year intentional commitment to the work of healing racial divisions in line with Sacred Ground and Becoming Beloved Community initiatives in the Episcopal Church.

For the pilgrims on the ground in Alabama, their journey included a day trip to Selma and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, key sites in the Voting Rights Movement. In Montgomery, pilgrims visited the Rosa Parks Museum, the Freedom Rides Museum, and, in what had the greatest impact on their journey, the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Finally, in Birmingham, the pilgrims were able to worship with St. Mark’s Episcopal Church before visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and walking to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

“I’ve read, listened to and watched everything I could get my hands on about racism and white supremacy in our country over the last decade, but nothing compares to the impact of being there. Of walking the path through the Middle Passage and the souls lost there, through enslavement, racial terror and lynchings, coordinated segregation, and ultimately mass incarceration in the way I experienced it in the Legacy Museum and the Memorial,” said Rachel Ravellette, Communications Director and Pilgrim from the Diocese of Central New York. “I’ve never felt more connected to people through time and space than I do after that experience. It’s given me newfound courage to continue in the work of racial healing.”

(Left to right): Josie Atkins, Anne Wichelns, and Mimi Youngman, pilgrims from the Diocese of Central New York, stand together to read and honor the names of lynching victims at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Diocese of Central New York is committed to honoring and offering both online and onsite experiences as holy and formative, and thus curated online resources to help those who were not among the 30 who travelled to Alabama. The resources are available on its Racial Justice and Reconciliation page, which will continue to expand and offer more online and onsite opportunities for learning and working for justice and love.

Now that the travelers have all made it home safely, they are already working on ways to invite others into the work of racial justice and healing. “We moved from head knowledge of awful truths to those truths becoming part of who we are in heart-wrenching ways that will never leave us,” Bishop Duncan Probe continued. “Our pilgrims are equipped through their shared experiences and their strengthened relationships to continue the healing work of becoming Beloved Community in their homes, parishes, and communities across our diocese in new and powerful ways. Our hearts, having been broken by the past, are turned to the future.”