About a week ago I watched a documentary on John Coltrane called Chasing Trane (by John Scheinfeld); it referenced a song Coltrane wrote called “Alabama.” The next day, I happened on a poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi called “Acknowlegement, 1964.” It’s a raw human rights lament, that references the KKK bombing of an Alabama Baptist church which killed four young girls. Although not stated, I believe the title is taken from the first part of John Coltrane’s masterpiece suite, A Love Supreme.
Calvocoressi, a Coltrane devotee, tells of her discovery of Coltrane’s song “Alabama,” how it was written in response to the killing of the four little girls, and how it follows the exact intonations and pacing of Martin Luther King’s eulogy.
Then, two days later, came this bit of good news sifting up over the border concerning Alabama’s Senate election: “In Alabama, decency has won an election.” The winner, Doug Jones, is the former U.S. attorney who, in 2002, successfully prosecuted two of the KKK terrorists who dynamited that church in Birmingham, Alabama. White supremacist violence, somehow protected, shelved, ignored for almost 40 years, finally brought to justice.
From Doug Jones’ victory speech: “As Dr King liked to quote, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice’. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, in this time, in this place, you have helped bend that moral arc a little closer towards justice, and not only was it bent more, not only was it bent truer, you bent it right through the heart of the great state of Alabama.”
From Dr. King’s 1963 Eulogy, on the lives of the slain girls, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins: “They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
An excerpt from Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “Acknowledgement, 1964:”
Could have gone west.
Could have packed your things,
who cares that you weren’t old enough to drive.
…could have gone down
the dark road between home and somewhere
Could’ve got lost. Could have said, “I don’t know”
when the waitress asked, “Where you live at?”
You could have lied and said, “New Jersey”
or “Mobile.” Of course, that assumes
you’d get past Mason Dixon.
“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.” —John Coltrane