Activist and theologian, Ruby Sales, spoke at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Sunday, October 11th.
Sales, as a seventeen-year-old, was pushed out of the way of a bullet by Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian, who died saving her life.
The Washington National Cathedral unveiled a sculpture of the late, Daniels, 50 years after his death.
After the service commemorating Daniels, Sales spoke to an audience of about 100 people, moderated by Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral.
Sales made it her life’s mission to continue to stand up and speak out on injustices in the United States.
“We see while things have changed, racism is rampant in this society,” Sales said.
Her organization, SpiritHouse Project, has worked diligently to track state-sanctioned murders against people of color.
Since 2007, SpiritHouse Project has documented over 2,000 state-sanctioned deaths against Black people. 98 percent of those counted in that number were unarmed.
“It is not by accident that Black Lives Matter is a theme today,” said Sales. She believes “Black Lives Matter” has always been a theme of the fight for justice even in slavery, and that saying, “All Lives Matter”, is an act of defiance.
“There is a redundancy, when people say, ‘All Lives Matter’, because white lives have always mattered. It is understood in the law and culture and has been asserted that they always have mattered,” said Sales.
Audiences wondered how Sales felt things could be improved.
First, she called for stakeholders in society to tell the truth, such as how the systemic racism, which continues to kill African Americans at the hands of officers, roots back to slavery.
The Second Amendment in the United States Constitution, which in general terms is the right to bear arms, is in relation to the slave patrollers, who were white men, that had the right to own guns to kill slaves if they tried to escape.
She calls this systemic racism part of a “state sponsored empire”, which has continued to flourish. For Sales, the ‘empire’ is an “imperialistic government whose arms extend” to control and oppress members of society.
Sales begged for churches to be honest with their parishioners about the realities of the world, but also inspire them that through extreme faith, they can help with the fight to end unjust deaths of thousands of Black men and women.
Next, she encouraged the audience to stray away from the word ‘solidarity’ in the 21st century. Sales wants people to stop thinking of the notion that other races are solely allies to movements such as Black Lives Matter, because the racism affects everyone in one way or another.
“Racism is not only oppressive to people of color, but coercive to whites too,” Sales said.
Sales noted people such as Jonathan Daniels realized this notion, which is why he fought, was arrested, and ultimately lost his life, because he understood the affect that racism had on society as a whole.
Before Sales’ speech ended, she reminisced on Daniels.
She said Daniels was a fast driver, with twinkling eyes, and a wonderful smile. Sales remembered they were very much alike as they both were angry about the injustices the nation was experiencing.
Sales also talked about the day Daniels lost his life to save hers.
“It was one of those hot Southern days where the heat vibrates the cement… We never thought that someone would be waiting with a shotgun.”
After Daniels death she experienced PTSD, did not talk for a year, and could not be in close spaces. She was hurt by Daniels’ death and did not like that some people made her feel guilty.
Yet, Sales learned that she could not hate those who were oppressive to her, and that is what has continued to motivate her fight for justice and career.
She was reminded of the tune Ella’s Song, famously sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until comes,” as she concluded her remarks of the evening.
Sales encouraged audiences to keep working and pushing towards justice for Black lives.
Micha Green of St. Timothy’s produced this report on Ruby Sales’ visit to St. Alban’s Church on August 16 for a class at Howard University. Sales, who also preached at St. Alban’s, was 17 years old when Jonathan Daniels, a colleague in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, shielded her from a shotgun blast and was killed instantly.