Press Release 2008
Ethiopians Discuss Faith and the American Civil Rights Movement
It is not every day that one gets the chance to talk with a person who lived, worked, prayed, and struggled with Dr. Martin Luther King, but thousands of Ethiopian students, religious leaders, and ordinary people got to do just that with the Rev. Dr. Elbert Ransom who visited Ethiopia from February 1 – 13. A pioneer in the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Ransom was born in the segregated South of the 1930s where African-Americans had to sit at the back of the bus, drink from separate water fountains, eat in separate sections of restaurants,wait for trains and buses in separate waiting rooms, and speak and act toward police in ways that Whites did not have to act. Inspired by Dr. King, who Ransom met as a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama, and the example of Mrs. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, Dr. Ransom became an enthusiastic participant in the Civil Rights Movement, working for and with Dr. King right up until his assassination. In doing so, he became a living link for today’s new generation of young people around the world who want to learn from the American struggle to advance the rights of African-Americans to live in peace, dignity, and with equal rights before the law.
During his visit, Dr. Ransom met with His Holiness, Abouna Paulos, and His Excellency, Sheikh Elias Redman, as well as many religious leaders and clergymen from the Christian and Muslim communities. Speaking in Addis Ababa, as well as traveling to Harar, Bahir Dar, and Gondar, Rev. Ransom spoke to students, religious leaders, and ordinary townspeople about how faith communities in America worked together for social change, setting aside their theological differences in the interests of advancing human rights and fighting social injustices. Because of the moral challenges presented by segregation in America, Jews and Christians and Muslims, Blacks and Whites, came together to work for a common cause without letting their religious differences keep them from uniting for the cause of justice and social change. Great people from all three faith traditions even gave their lives during the Civil Rights Movement and their example inspires us to this day to set aside religious differences and work together on the basis of our shared values.
Throughout Dr. Ransom’s visit, he continually stressed that “we are all created by God and God is inside each of us,” the basis, he says, for giving Muslims and Christians and Jews the impetus to work together to make society more just and humane. Whatever our theological differences, he said, these three great faiths – indeed all religions! – teach common shared values that can drive an agenda for positive social change in every society.
At the conclusion of his visit, Dr. Ransom said, “Everywhere I went in Ethiopia, I found many, many people of goodwill, both Christian and Muslim, who are ready to work together to address the challenges of poverty and social justice. As an African-American, who does not know where in Africa his ancestors came from, I truly feel like I have found my spiritual home.”