A Reflection on Civil Rights

Emmet Murphy, OFM Features

This issue’s seasonal reflection is about Black History Month. Emmet Murphy, OFM, a student of the civil rights movement, recently visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C., and was inspired to compile his thoughts.

Many of us have lived through significant events in the history of civil rights — the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Vatican II and the civil rights movement.

I was always interested in the civil rights movement — for all people — not just our African-American brothers and sisters.

The renewal of the Order in the wake of the Second Vatican Council helped restore non-ordained Franciscan brothers to their rightful place in the Order of Lesser Brothers. When I entered the Order in the 1950s, I was uncomfortable with separate dining rooms for ordained and non-ordained friars, and brothers made to feel like second-class citizens. Thankfully, the Chapters of Renewal in the late 1960s ended the caste system within the Order.

At the time, I could identify with our black sisters and brothers who fought for their civil rights and were finally given their God-given and rightful place in society.

Murphy, EmmetThe God of Surprises 
On Feb. 1 of this year, I visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which is built on the location of what is considered the beginning of the civil rights movement. On that day in 1950, four African-American college students boldly sat at a whites-only counter in Woolworth’s and ordered coffee.

Truly, the God of surprises confounds the powerful and mighty and raises up the poor and the weak: an aging, portly pontiff who listened to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and four terrified black college students who took a stand by taking a seat. We, too, can make a difference in society by working, ministering and praying to stand up to injustice.

Museum Chronicles Civil Rights History
Woolworth’s closed the store in January 1993 and sold the building to a local bank, which planned to demolish the building and use the empty lot for parking. A group of black businessmen persuaded the bank to sell the building to them so they could create a museum.

Today, you can tour the museum, witnessing civil rights history through the many photos and exhibits that sadly detail man’s inhumanity to man.

— Fr. Emmet Murphy, a native of Cambridge, Mass., lives at St. Francis of Assisi Friary in Raleigh, N.C., roughly 90 miles from Greensboro.