editor’s note: we re-run this ICT column by our old friend Bill Coleman – hoping all is well with Bill and so missing his passion! – R.T.
By William S. Coleman III
He never held a public office, he was never appointed ambassador to the United Nations, and he was not the bishop of his church. The world knew him as a Southern Baptist preacher who was thrust into the national limelight because he saw things that were wrong and he tried to make them right.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was an educated man who, like his father, preached the word of God as an ordained minister. He could have been assigned to a middle-class neighborhood where he could have conducted weddings, baptisms, funerals and local fund raisers for its church and its congregations.
He could have lived a simple life, not challenging the local status quo or political leaders. He could have just preached “tranquilize” to his congregants and “gradualism” to those wanting to live in a community where people felt they had the right to live free. Dr. King, as he was known after he received his Doctorate of Philosophy degree from Boston University, was very happy enjoying family life with his wife Coretta and their children.
But there was a storm brewing in his heart that would challenge the times for which he lived. America was about to erupt into a modern day civil war on injustice.
When we research the time and era for which Dr King began his early preaching ministry, we see an America separated by race, gender, class, education, religion, economics and political power.
This was an America where the nation was separated by cultural regions and a living Mason/Dixon line that was alive and taking great tolls. American sports teams in the most prominent colleges in the country were segregated, black and white players could not be on the same sports team. County Sheriffs and local police departments would not hire able and capable African American men to serve in their departments.
It would be hard for young people today to imagine not being able to talk to a friend simply because the color of that friend’s skin or accent in that friend’s voice was not the same as ones of their parents.
We seem to work in a world today of multiple diversities. We can’t imagine drinking from a water fountain that said whites only or use by colored people only. One could not think that going to a movie meant sitting on one side with all white patrons or being up in the nose bleed section of the balcony which was set aside for Negroes as blacks were once called.
As we look back on those times we see that our schools were segregated, our churches were divided and woman’s place was below a man’s. America was on the verge of an uprising that would push the civil rights movement of our nation’s quest for equality and right to challenge the way things were.
The young preacher had no idea what he was about embark on, when a group of church leaders asked him to help stop end the discriminatory practice that forced black Americans to ride in the back of the bus. Dr. King was invited to speak with some community leaders about ending this practice, those established powerful and controlling white male leaders said to Dr. King: we cannot change this practice, it is the way it is.
They warned him not to aggravate and get people all riled up. This practice would stay.
Dr. King, appealing to the good nature of these gentlemen, was polite and said he would bring their message back to his congregation. When he spoke to the crowd and he shared the many meetings he had with the business and city leaders of that day, he was moved to emotional tears when the city’s black population said we will boycott the buses, said we will walk to our jobs, we will carpool to our businesses, our farms and our churches.
Everybody did just that. For one year. Until this bus boycott stopped an unfair and antiquated practice and started a peaceful nonviolent movement for change and acceptance that influences every movement in America and the world today.
Dr. King got the ball started with the help of some powerful black women and powerful back men, working together with common white and black folks wanting so tirelessly to end modern day segregation in America.
My question to you today…For the next generation of community leaders of every race, gender, persuasion, religious belief, height, size, financial status, ability or disability, street educated or academically institutionally educated…Are we there yet?