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SBC's return to Atlanta prompts plan for historic civil rights tour
--By Dwayne Hastings
     ATLANTA (BP)--Although messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention voted last year to limit the annual meeting to two days, Richard Land hopes messengers and their families stay an extra day this year.
     And he is trusting the message of racial reconciliation, contained in a landmark resolution passed the last time the convention met in Atlanta, will not be lost on convention-goers as they return to Atlanta for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June. Land said he had been searching for "a visible and symbolic way to reaffirm the intent and meaning" of the resolution on racial reconciliation messengers adopted four years ago.
     To that end, the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission which Land heads is sponsoring a historical civil rights tour June 17, the day following the close of convention business. The ERLC president joined with Emmanuel McCall, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in metro Atlanta's College Park, in planning the day-long tour to historical civil rights sites in Atlanta and in Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.
     The 1995 resolution called for Southern Baptists to commit "to eradicate racism" and apologized "for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism."
"We want to draw attention to our resolves," Land said, "by expressing appropriate gratitude for the sacrifices made by those committed black and white Americans who paved the way for the civil rights revolution."
     Land said the bus tour, which will begin early Thursday morning in Atlanta and return back to the Georgia city late that day, will include wreath-layings at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. served on staff and at Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., where four little girls were killed during Sunday school in a 1963 bombing attack on the downtown congregation.
     "Tremendous sacrifices were necessary and some people paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives during this period," Land said. "The tour will give Southern Baptists an opportunity to see firsthand historical sites that have had an impact on the life of every American alive today. These events led to full citizenship for millions of African Americans and have transformed the nation."
     Land was a guest on similar tour hosted by the Faith & Politics Institute of Washington, D.C., earlier this year. He joined congressmen and press representatives in visiting civil rights sites in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma, Ala., as part of a group led by Rep. John Lewis, D.-Ga., who was beaten and jailed for his involvement in the civil rights movement during the 1960s in the South.
     Lewis told the congressmen on the tour that he believed in revisiting history Americans would be more likely to open up to discuss the issue of race in the future. According a Washington newspaper, The Hill, Lewis said, "Before we can create the beloved community, a fully integrated democracy, before we recover the soul of America, it's important to educate decision-makers about the progress we have made and the distance we still must travel."
The fruit of the civil rights movement, while bloody for many of the protestors, was legislatively rich. Within three years after the congressional passage of the Voting Act of 1965, 3.5 million African Americans had registered to vote and 5,000 blacks had been elected to local and county positions, Land said.
     "We need to pay homage and express our gratitude for the courageous actions of these American heroes who helped extricate ourselves from our self-styled Babylonian captivity," Land said. "Largely what the law can do to diminish inequality has been done; yet the task remains undone and it can only be done by people of faith living out the gospel. We need to rededicate ourselves to finishing the journey begun with much pain and sacrifice, bringing our nation across the bridge and into the promised land of racial reconciliation."
Land said the tour promises to be a very powerful experience of retracing the steps of men and women "who so courageously stood for justice and equality under the law for all Americans."
Details and registration for the tour, priced at $35 (including a box lunch), are available from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission by calling 1-800-475-9127.

The June 17's tour tentative schedule will be:

Time Event
7:30 a.m. Tour begins at Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta) for a wreath-laying and dedication.
8 a.m. Buses depart for Montgomery, Ala.
10 a.m. Tour King Memorial-Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and wreath-laying at Civil Rights Memorial (Montgomery).
11 a.m. Buses depart for Birmingham, Ala.
1 p.m. Tour and wreath-laying in visits to Sixteenth St. Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park which served as the assembly point for many major marches, demonstrations, rallies and prayer services.
4:30 p.m Reception at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.
5:15 p.m. Buses depart for Atlanta.

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