March 18 - Today's post contributed by Nina Nolan
When I read a biography of Mahalia Jackson (Just Mahalia, Baby), years ago, I was in awe. She was raised in a time and place that treated women badly and black women worse, but I seemed more angry about that than she did. I wanted to know why. And how. How had her response to that potentially soul-killing reality been to triumph? Gracefully.
There’s a wonderful Youtube video of Mahalia (It’s on NinaNolanBooks.com, too). She says, “I think fear is sin. And I can’t live in fear.”
My definition of “sin” and hers might differ (Mine is the old meaning, “To miss the mark,” which I, for one, do regularly), but I think if we could all live by her quote, like she did, the world would be a very different, and lovely, place.
The organizers of the March on Washington were advised against it, because of the likelihood of violence. But there was no violence. There were hundreds of thousands of people, and not even one arrest that day. How was that possible?
I think consciously choosing love, even in extremely fearful environments, provides a kind of spiritual strength that can, and did, move mountains that day. And I think it’s the same spiritual strength that Mahalia used to create her amazing and graceful life.
When she drove around The South, singing in churches, she had to stop for gas. The people at the gas stations accepted her money for the gas, but she wasn’t allowed to use the restroom. How was she not angry at those gas station attendants? Or the laws that allowed them to do that? The author I read who questioned whether having to build that much bladder control contributed to her later health issues was probably angry about it. I know I was. Mahalia wasn’t. She just kept driving, on bald tires that she couldn’t afford to replace, buoyed by her unwavering trust in God.
Someone said, “Some people believe in God, Mahalia knows he’s there.”
Mahalia said, “”When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong.”
She was determined to give people that hope, and her internal GPS was so strong that she couldn’t be pulled off course. By anything. For me, that is a miracle.
|[Mahalia Jackson, three-quarter length portrait, with her arms raised, singing before microphone]|
[between 1960 and 1972]
NYWT&S staff photographs are in the public domain