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Diego Pfeiffer, a student survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting Feb. 14, speaks to a crowd of supporters and media with fellow survivors Sophie Whitney, left, and Sarah Chadwick after they arrived at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday.

BOB GRAY: Children’s Crusade

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By Friday, Feb 23, 2018 Viewpoints 5

‘The Children’s Crusade’ by Gustave Doré

In 1212, both fact and legend note a Children’s Crusade whose promise was to peacefully free the Holy Land from Muslim domination by converting the non-believers to Christianity.

Stephen of Cloyes gathered youth from Germany and Northern France to march to the Mediterranean Sea where the waters were to part, allowing the Crusaders to march to Jerusalem. They traveled first to Rome to receive Pope Innocent III’s blessing for their endeavor. With uncharacteristic good sense, the pontiff told the children to go home, to do good and behave themselves.

When the sea didn’t part, unscrupulous merchants offered to take the children to the Holy Land. Predictably, most of the crusaders died or were sold into slavery.

It’s a good story, but many facets of the tale are disputed.

The results of another Children’s Crusade, called for by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., are historically factual.

In 1963, King, seeing energy for protests to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, flagging, proposed a Children’s Crusade to reinvigorate the movement. Despite protests about involving children in the struggle from other leaders, among them Malcolm X, King proceeded.

On the first day of protests, many children were arrested. When the protest continued the following day, the infamous “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety, ordered the police to beat the young protestors with billy clubs, assault them with high-pressure water hoses and threaten them with attack dogs.

Children’s Crusade race riots at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. Photo courtesy Getty Images

Disgusted by this brutality, the civic leaders of Birmingham, the most segregated city in the south, began the at-least-nominal desegregation in public services, employment and schools.

Following the latest school shooting atrocity in Parkland, Florida, another Children’s Crusade is rising: a largely youth-bred movement meant to persuade legislators to take some meaningful action, or to take any action at all, to stem the needless deaths of our country’s children in schools.

To watch these children struggling to make sense of the senseless, to see them pleading for help from those in power as hearses bearing their best friends roll by in the background, is gut-wrenching to all but the most heartless of us.

Yet no official they questioned, from the president down to local governing boards, could find the guts to give them a straight answer, any even slightly specific answer, either in support of or against their search for meaning. Their cowardice and bald-faced self interest are shameful.

In the fractured America of the 1960s, beatings, water cannons and police dogs shamed a segregated city to do what was right. I’m terribly fearful that any changes wrought by this crusade are about as likely as the sea parting to lead the children to the promised land.

Apparently, in the disintegrating, uncivil United States of 2018, hearses carrying the bodies of and funerals memorializing our beautiful children, not only in Florida but across the breadth of this country, seem to have no effect whatsoever to move our “leaders” to do the same.

Sadly, tragically, this most recent crusade is more likely to end like 1212 than 1963 with  more kids dying and the survivors being sold down the river by those whose sworn duty is to protect them.


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  1. Ritch says:

    Thank you, Bob, for this insightful article. I am embarrassed to say that I only recently (last week!) learned about the Birmingham Children’s Crusade through the show “Drunk History”. (I was 1 at the time, but was never taught about it in my public education, and therein lies another tragedy, but that’s another article). We winter a few miles from Parkland, Fl, and if not everywhere, the news coverage of this unfolding event has been wall to wall. After 3 days of it, and seeing these amazing kids heading off to Tallahassee to demand change, I too was able to make the correlation to 1963. Frankly, it’s all that gave me hope that change was possible, because it did happen in our not too distant past about an issue that also deeply divided our country.
    The only thing I would change about your article is the tenor of defeat at the end. I truly hope (as I am sure you do too) that these kid’s efforts, their tragic losses, and their sheer heroism to rise and stand face to face against powerful, seemingly-deafened lawmakers will not be in vain.
    It certainly looks disturbing, but there are cracks in this cauldron of corruption that are beginning to show.. not necessarily in the places we are hoping for – direct and honest action from our government – but through the same sort of private-sector actions that fueled the #MeToo movement…. Chubb insurance refusing to write policies for gun-owners, travel companies ending NRA perks, advertising dollars being pulled from companies that support NRA-backers…it’s starting to happen. We, as adults all over this country need to continue the pressures to remove the flow of money that fuels the NRA and choke out the roots of this poisonous weed that has taken over our garden. I hope you will be able to write an addendum to this article soon that shows a country that hasn’t hardened it’s heart to the overwhelming images of these kids and they, too, will get their place in history . I hope you get to write it soon. Thanks again.

    1. bob says:

      Thank you, Ritch, for your comments.
      I did wrestle with the end, but decided in part to go the way i did to complete the comparisons, to keep the thread going to the end of things.
      However, I too feel a tremor of change and also fervently hope it flourishes.
      Nothing would suit me better than to write the sequel you suggest.
      Bob

  2. Donna Jacobs says:

    Thank you for this article, Bob. The “tenor of defeat” (see comment from Rich) sparks an important conversation here in the Berkshires. Your article is timely. I am among those who’s hope is inspired and revived by these young protestors. Their courage restores a waning sense of pride for human decency. Let us put out the call to grow their numbers, to take the message, en mass, as we did during the youthful anti-war protests of the 1960’s and 70’s. Let’s not forget the fight to save lives of our own generation when brothers, cousins, and friends were pointlessly fighting and dying in Viet Nam. I do not believe complacency will render this crusade in vain. This crusade is not naive. Hope for the future is held in the hands of the youth.
    Is anyone with me?

    1. bob says:

      Thank you, Ritch, for your comments.
      I did wrestle with the end, but decided in part to go the way i did to complete the comparisons, to keep the thread going to the end of things.
      However, I too feel a tremor of change and also fervently hope it flourishes.
      Nothing would suit me better than to write the sequel you suggest.
      Bob

    2. bob says:

      Thank you, Donna, for you comment.
      My hopes for the eventual success of the “movement” that’s rising.
      The tenor in the final paragraph is informed by what , I believe, to be the horrid state of affairs in the present.
      But the kids are a flicker of hope.
      I hope people answer your call.
      Bob

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