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Remembering Dr. Leola J. Bullock

The below article appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star on Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the week after the death of Leola Bullock, there was much said about her passion for civil, social and human rights.

At her funeral, the Rev. Dr. Jesse Foster told how Leola would invite and encourage others to show up at meetings, hearings, protests, anywhere they could speak up or stand up against discrimination, prejudice, or inequality.

But whether or not those others would accompany her did not influence her own participation. She was going, Foster said, even if she was the only body standing up, or the lone voice speaking out.

On Oct. 17, her own ability to stand up, sit in or wave a hand to be heard was stopped.

Foster would have liked to have said to her, “Talitha cumi,” the Aramaic phrase he said Jesus used to raise a dead woman.

“Damsel, get up.”

Foster knew he could say it all day, but Leola would not rise up, he said. So he turned to the hundreds gathered Friday morning at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

“I can say it to you,” he said, “Talitha cumi.”

The question people are asking as the generation who lived through the hardened times of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and who dedicated themselves to the ideals of human rights, pass away: Who will take their places?

They were members of what was called — rightly or wrongly — the Silent Generation, those born between 1923 and the early 1940s. Leola was born in 1929. Fellow Lincoln activist Lela Shanks was born in 1927. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, four days before Leola. Malcolm X was born in 1925.

Family and friends, most of them members of generations that came after Leola, say they and many other younger people have jobs and advantages because they have stood on the shoulders of that older generation of activists.

Baby boomers and subsequent generations benefited from Brown v. Board of Education, which helped desegregate schools. They benefited from those who registered to vote, or sat wherever they wanted on city buses, at their own peril.

As much as the generation has done, as they die they leave many things they wanted to accomplish undone.

Lincoln is without a human rights director. The death penalty, which they believe disproportionately applies to minorities, still is in effect in Nebraska. Police, they say, continue to have a disproportionate number of contacts with people of color.

Racism and hate crimes continue. Political prisoners still are locked up. Dropout rates among minorities are too high and the achievement gap too wide.

Leola believed each generation would find its own way to get things done.

Foster, who is pastor at Newman United Methodist Church and director of Christian leadership with the Nebraska United Methodist Conference, said he feels no generation is ever active enough in the realm of social justice, especially those who are more removed from overt oppression.

“I think it’s a question of every group staying aware that justice is not something that is just going to come to any group,” he said.

Of the hundreds of people, of all colors, at her service, he knew, there might be someone just waiting to be inspired to be the next Leola Bullock.

“Talitha cumi,” he said.

Stand up.


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