Riverside BookClub – September
On September 10, 2022, at 11:00am, via ZOOM, The Riverside Church Book Club, will be reviewing the book, Lanterns, by Marian Wright Edelman. In her preface to the book, Edelman prays, “O God, I thank You for the lanterns in my life who illumined dark and uncertain paths calmed and stilled debilitating doubts and fears with encouraging words, wise lessons, gentle touches, firm nudges, and faithful action along my journey of life and back to You.”
Edelman was born on June 6, 1939, and entered young adulthood midway through the first year of the turbulent 1960s, a very dark and uncertain decade for people of African descent. Their average life-span was seven years less than that of White Americans. Black children had only half of the possibility of completing high school and only a third of the chance of completing college as White children.
They had less than a third of the chance of ever entering a profession. Black Americans earned no more than half as much as White Americans and were twice as likely to be unemployed (“Digital History of Black America, 1960, Online, 2022).
Moreover, six years after the landmark Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education decision of 1954, only 49 Southern school districts had officially desegregated and less than 1.2 percent of Black school children in the 11 states of the Old Confederacy attended schools with White children. Less than a quarter of the South’s Black population could vote, serve on grand or trial juries, use public beaches, use restaurants or use hotels occupied by White people.
In the North, most neighborhoods, businesses, and unions openly excluded Black people. Technology displaced Black workers, putting severe strains on Black families. This was also the time when, according to the Tuskegee Institute Report, that, by 1968, an estimated 3, 445 Black people had been lynched.
In Lanterns, Edelman describes her encounters with certain “lanterns” during those dark times. She explains how they had a permanent impact on her life. These included her parents, Arthur Jerome and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright, educators at Spellman College and others, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Fannie Lou Hamer, William Sloan Coffin, Ella Baker, Mae Bertha Carter and her husband, Peter Edelman.
As a result, Edelman became a significant “lantern” in her own right. Through her influence, she helped to organize and impact: the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Washington Research Project, and the Children’s Defense Fund. She also founded the Freedom Schools currently operating in at least 24 states with at least 7,200 children enrolling (www.childrendefense.org). As such, inevitably she has been a lantern, lighting the pathways of following generations of such “lanterns”, who have in turn found their niches in a variety of professions that advocate for children. Her book includes 25 lessons with guidelines for current and future “lanterns”.
MODERATOR, Eileen McArthur is one such “lantern”. She will be facilitating the Book Club discussion. McArthur has focused on children and adults with communication disorders, as well as the arts and spirituality. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from St. Lawrence University and a Master of Education degree in Communication Disorders from Seton Hall University. She then entered a career that spanned over 40-years as a Speech Pathologist. Eventually, she focused primarily on children with autism and also hearing impaired students.
Over the course of her career, she contributed much to the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with communication impairments. She worked within and supervised departments in hospital, clinics and school settings, including Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, New York. She also created and distributed a quarterly newsletter for parents of deaf children, and has received awards for her outstanding work, serving as what Edelman would consider a “lantern” in a field which was growing in its understanding of children and families with special needs. Parents were especially appreciative of the impact that McArthur had on their children.
Her advocacy for the needs of children has not been limited to her profession as a speech pathologist. She also spent decades addressing the spiritual needs of typical children, not just those with communication disorders. For example, at churches such as Stamford First United Methodist Church, she supervised the team of Vacation Bible School teachers and was a head Sunday school teacher. In those spaces, McArthur focused on helping children to form an understanding of God and of how to translate that understanding out into their relationships with others within their church, community and families.
In addition, she advocated for young people in the Arts. She coordinated the annual “FUMC Young Artist’s Showcase”, where young artists from throughout Fairfield County, Connecticut competed and performed. In her retirement, she fondly reflects on her years as a “lantern” within her community and family.
She has three sons: Damon, a college art professor; Timothy, a physical therapist; and Daniel, a real estate financial analyst. Her husband, Rev. Dr. Douglas McArthur, recently retired as pastor of Stamford First United Methodist Church in Stamford, Connecticut.
The book is available online, at Amazon.com and via The Riverside Church Bookstore.