Archive for the ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’ Category

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. I knew Dr. King as a young man. His mom was a “Call Customer” of mine, when I sold shoes at Davison’s downtown. The following story from Unholy Seduction is true, and it was my experience. I used it in the novel.
“Then, newsworthy events began to impact our lives. When we heard that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot and killed in Memphis, we were completely unprepared to learn the news. His execution made me think about what I had been doing when JFK was assassinated in Dallas—just up the road from Midlothian. Like Kennedy’s murder five years earlier, schools were closed out of respect for Dr. King.
Being a lifelong resident of Atlanta and a local pastor, Dr. King’s funeral was scheduled for a few days later—not far from where we lived. Not having to teach that day, I decided to attend. Because Jolene had a cold and couldn’t go to daycare, Val needed to remain at home, so I went alone.
When I arrived, I had no idea hundreds of thousands of people would be there—all stunned and heartbroken by the assassination. In my naïveté, I thought there might be a few thousand, but I was mistaken. There was a sea of humanity.
I marched with thousands of others—nameless, faceless people—who walked with me up Courtland Avenue past Georgia State University, where I considered going to graduate school at night.
The procession was about twenty across and many miles deep. The most interesting thing about the march was how silent the people were. Nobody talked. All that could be heard was the sound of feet shuffling on the pavement—thousands of feet. Only a few cried, and those who did, weren’t demonstrative.
Most were too stunned to do anything other than put one foot in front of the other. Nobody was told to be quiet. Everybody just seemed to realize that being silent was what we were supposed to do. Besides, there was nothing to say. The impact this silent march made upon each person was indelible. It was something none of us would ever forget.
As we passed the State Capitol, I saw vigilant state troopers standing, side-by-side, four feet apart. Each was holding a rifle, as they surrounded the building, protecting Governor Lester Maddox—my arch-segregationist former donor. As I walked by, I remember thinking his side had won. He had all the guns and all of the political power. He was in charge of the state, while his ally, Governor Wallace, was making a surprisingly strong third party bid for the Presidency. Adding to their victory, Dr. King was dead—murdered by a segregationist.
Witnessing the troopers, I finally admitted to myself that I had been wrong to take Governor Maddox’s money. I had justified my actions, accepting his donation on three separate occasions, because Crusade needed the funds. Looking at the State Troopers as I passed, I felt like I had been as fraudulent as Hixson Orr.
In my heart, I knew there was never a right way to do a wrong thing, but I disregarded this truth by depositing Maddox’s checks. As I walked by, I felt tainted and dirty, as unclean as the guys who were ordered to take a shower before being examined for their Army physical.
Grief stricken, I’ve never felt more ashamed of myself than that day. Finally admitting how unethical my actions had been grieved me, but it also felt cleansing.
Based on the perspective I had that day, segregation had won, defeating racial equality. “Darkies” would be kept in their place, and I was there to witness it—just another bystander who refused to make a stand for what was right. I felt awful. I talked about God’s love all the time, while carefully disregarding another aspect of His character—justice.
Thinking about how the segregationists had won didn’t make me angry—not like it did many others. I was too numb and grief stricken for that, especially that day. It was such a sad time, but I did wonder why God had allowed it to happen? It was a question I’m sure others were also asking.
Driving home, I knew I wanted my life to count for more than this. Being in the procession rejuvenated my desire to be part of Full Armor Assembly, by joining Brother Al in La Grande Boca.
Now in my mid-twenties, in many ways, I was still young and inexperienced. I didn’t understand how a martyr’s death could irreversibly change things. Reflecting back on those events decades later, Dr. King’s dream and vision for America has come true—at least much of it. The day of his funeral, it didn’t seem like this could possibly happen.
Governor Lester Maddox’s world has disappeared. Only a handful of people even remember who he was. Dr. King’s birthday is a national holiday.
Although the Governor was physically safe as the mourners passed by—surrounded by troopers carrying weapons—his world began to disintegrate soon thereafter. Few remember anything about segregation. Virtually nobody can enumerate the specifics of what Maddox’s generation of segregationists believed. Obviously, after three hour-long meetings with him, I can remember, but I never took what he had to say seriously. Nobody took Lester Maddox’s worldview seriously—at least, nobody sane.
Dr. King’s dream, by way of contrast, remains alive and powerful. In some ways, my experience at the funeral that day may have been one of the most powerful examples of victorious Christianity I’ve ever witnessed. It was victory coming from defeat, new life emerging from death. It was a transformational moment in time—something I’ll never forget—something that can never be taken from me, despite the fact that I didn’t even come close to the front of the line.
Despite this, I learned a great lesson. Love trumps hate every time, particularly when hate seems to have the upper hand. You can kill a man, but you can never kill his ideas—especially when millions embrace them. Internalizing what I had learned, I matured a little that day; I’m sure of it.
Later, when I walked into the house, Val caught my eye. When she looked at me, she stopped. She could tell something dramatic had happened. She didn’t say a word, but in our silent communication, both of us realized that moving to California was back on the table.
Jack Watts

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