Harvard President Drew Faust delivered Morning Prayers on Friday, offering the intimate crowd in Appleton Chapel some deeply personal and pointed reflections on her experience with the Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago.
“History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave,” said Faust, reading from the poem “The Cure at Troy” by Nobel laureate and Harvard Professor Seamus Heaney. “But then, once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.”
In 1965, Faust was a freshman at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania when grainy, black-and-white images flashed across the TV screen of peaceful protesters being beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. The marchers were demonstrating for their constitutional right to vote.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Faust saw in the growing Civil Rights Movement “the compelling nature of what was right,” and its goals “appeared both unquestionable and unavoidable.” ...
When civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. declared: “No American is without responsibility,” and called for another march, Faust said she knew she “had to go” and take part. “It was a moral imperative. I could do more than hope; I could act. I did not have to await a tidal wave; I could be part of it.”
So Faust skipped her midterm exams and headed to Selma. The experience offered her a moment of “absolute and powerful moral clarity,” though over time, she added, she has come to realize that “justice requires perennial struggle.”
“No victory is absolute; we have to keep our eyes on the prize to hold on — even to the Voting Rights Act itself, which is being threatened and eroded at the same time we are celebrating its passage.”