“Look behind you. Then see your sons and your daughters. They are your future. Look farther and see your sons' and your daughters' children and their children's children even unto the Seventh Generation. That's the way we were taught. Think about it: you yourself are a Seventh Generation."
- Leon Shenandoah
Day 94 - Sunday, September 24, 1995 - Early Sunday afternoon about 80 of us—walkers and Memphis supporters—gathered at Overton Park. From there, on a spectacularly beautiful early Autumn day, we began a five-mile prayer walk to the Martin Luther King National Civil Rights Museum.
|Walking down the road - The Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth -- pilgrims of all colors and all faiths -- began the day's walk in Memphis. Author Photo
As our circle gathered to prepare for the day’s walk, Alycia Longriver stood. She told what the walkers had seen along the road from Massachusetts to the Mississippi: "When we walk we see footstep after footstep filled with broken glass and every conceivable form of trash.
“We hardly ever find a river, stream or pond clean enough to swim in or to drink from,” she said. “When we got to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we thought it would be better. But the trees were sick there, almost all of them. And the deer, too, most of the deer we saw also were sick. There is a lot that you see on foot that you cannot see when you go by fast in a car.
"This may be the last walk that arises from the intention of the native community of this land," Alycia said. "There is no more time. We need to walk now for our children. As we go, we know that there are thousands walking with us in prayer. We remember them, too, every day as we go on."
Joe Soto took his turn in the circle. "We have been told that this place (Memphis) is the centering place for our effort, for our walk,” he said. “Whatever happens here will set the pattern for all that is to follow as we cross the Mississippi River and go on to the West."
Grandfather Commanda arrived at Overton Park from Quebec, Canada, just moments before we set off walking. After offering a prayer of thanksgiving, he started forward with cane in hand. He was flanked by people representing all the colors of humanity. Behind him walked four drummers representing four native nations: Cree, Algonquin, MiqMaq, and Arawak.
|Doongees (Julia Soto) a year old, took her first steps at Overton Park in Memphis.
Among the walkers was the daughter of Joe and Ineke: Julia Soto, known to all as Doongees (Little Barrel). Just over a year old, Julia took her first steps in life and as one of the Sunbow walkers this Sunday at Overton Park in Memphis.
The drummers kept up a steady , driving four-beat, and sang a vigorous drum song every step of the way from the shade of Overton Park through the hot streets of downtown Memphis.
As we sang and prayed and walked together down Union St., we were stopped cold in our tracks at a taxidermy storefront. There, behind broad, dusty plate glass windows, loomed the stuffed figures of two Polar Bears, a Kodiak Bear, a Grizzly Bear, a Brown Bear, a Zebra, a Giraffe, and a great number of other animals. They were all stuffed. They were all for sale.
|Bear honor song - As the Sunbow walk made its way down Union Street in Memphis, we came upon a taxidermy shop. Running Fawn (left) holds the staff, while walkers sing. From the left: Ned Paschene, Joe Soto, Charlie Commando. Author photo, 1995.
In unison, without discussion, the drummers lined up before the window to sing an honor song for the spirits of all the creatures whose bodies were being sold for ornamentation. Many of the walkers offered pinches of tobacco out of respect.
This is what we do. We go to the places of sorrow and imbalance and we pray. We ask for blessings for one and all. That is our mission as the Sunbow 5 Walk: to open our eyes and see what is happening, and then to step into the middle of it with a prayerful intention, remembering everone and everything.
The walk went on a few more blocks and then paused again before a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Ku Klux Klan. The walkers began to chant.
"He needs our prayers, too," Tom said. "We pray for the victims, and for the victimizers. We prayed for the people who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, too, when the 50th anniversary came around a few weeks ago. They all need prayers. No exceptions. "
When the walk arrived at its destination, the National Civil Rights Museum, we stood and sang an honor song for Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life came to an end here on April 5, 1968.
King was on his way to dinner at the home of a local minister. He opened the turquoise door to Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, and paused on the balcony. That's when the assassin's bullet cut him down.
|The Lorraine Motel in Memphis - now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, to honor the place where Martin Luther King was assasinated.
King strove to raise America’s awareness of the dangers of the giant triplets: racism, materialism, and militarism. A lot of people with vested interests were terrified of his charisma and his eloquent calls for justice.
Memphis is the city where King led his final march, and it is also where he made his final speech just two nights before being killed:
"Well, I don't know what will happen now," King said. "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.
"...He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.
"And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
After the bullets flew, after a man of peace was shot down in the heart of Memphis, the scene of the crime, the Lorraine Motel -- in fact the whole neighborhood -- went to seed. Nobody wanted to live nearby. Everything deteriorated. In 1982 the motel closed, 14 years after King’s murder. Eventually the significance of the site prompted civil rights advocates to rescue it from demolition.
In 1991, after refurbishing, the Lorraine Motel was re-opened as the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum has helped the neighborhood to revive.
Pastor Anne Gillis welcomed the walkers to a first-rate pot-luck Sunday-evening feast at the Memphis Connection Church, with well over 100 people enjoying fellowship and sharing food and stories.
Grandfather Commanda offered brief remarks: "We cannot order or demand anyone to do anything," he said. "We can only tell you what we know and hope and pray that you will listen.
“We native people know something. After having lived here on this land for many, many thousands of years, we have learned some things. We don't know it all, but we do know something.
"Right now we have a choice, but that choice is very hard," Grandfather said. "But we must make that choice now so that our children will have the possibility of the life that we have had. We love you, we love you all, and we are depending on you to help us make life possible for our children and for your children."
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 95 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire