About 1954 when I was seventeen, someone set a bomb off in our entrance hall. It was the night of an election with a black woman running for the school board in Houston, Texas. Segregation and the myth of separate, but equal schools were still firmly in place, and the black schools had never had representation on the board. I believe she was the first black candidate.
My father was a newspaper editor and had written editorials supporting her.
The bomb was not like bombs today. It didn’t destroy walls or knock down the door, but it had enough impact to cause the confetti packing and sharp pieces of slate to become embedded in the door and walls. It was set off about three in the morning, my father was still at the newspaper covering the election, and I was half-way down the stairs before I decided not to go to the door. That was my first personal experience of the human capacity for senseless violence.
Though my mother was from Mississippi and my father was from Louisiana, they had taught me that prejudging people on the basis of their skin color was not only wrong, it was ignorant. And ignorance was THE mortal sin in our family.
When I married and moved to Nashville, Tennessee our friends were mostly doctors and lawyers and college professors. In the middle sixties I decided to join the NAACP after one of my friends, who was a volunteer at a local hospital, informed us all angrily that, “There was no way in hell, she was going to carry that n_____ baby out to their car. And she told them that right then and there. She didn’t care who heard her.” Obviously, a college education isn’t always a cure for ignorance.
So in 1968 I was working at the NAACP office when the Poor People’s March came through Nashville. There were many young blacks from out of town, who belonged to more militant organizations like SNCC and CORE, going in and out of the office where I was answering the phone. Their obvious strong hatred of whites, even those of us working for the NAACP, was frightening.
It seemed to me that America was headed for a bloody race war where many innocent people on both sides would be destroyed. I began to pray fervently for a miracle that would prevent that.
I have come to see Martin Luther King as that miracle. I believe whites should be as grateful to him as blacks.
I thank God for Martin Luther King.
My father was a crusading newspaper editor in Houston, Texas. In the fifties, before the civil rights movement had begun to gain momentum, he publicly supported the first black to run for a position on the school board. This wasn’t about integration. It was just a matter of giving blacks some representation for their own schools. Late on the night of the election, someone set off a small, but potentially fatal bomb in the entrance hall to our apartment after ringing our doorbell. Though at that late hour I had enough sense to stop short of opening the door, I was close enough to recognize the danger and to feel the hatred it represented.
After marriage, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where I was part of a relatively affluent social group. One of my Candy Striper, hospital volunteer friends came to a party full of righteous indignation over being asked to carry a black newborn baby out to the car. More and more I began to feel like a misfit in the life I was leading. So, I looked for ways to concretely work for justice for the disenfranchised. I started by going to a black elementary school to tutor young children having problems learning to read. Eventually, I volunteered for Project Equality, which involved working in the NAACP offices, interviewing, and signing up people that were looking for employment. Then I would go back to my own neighborhood and approach business owners about employing the people I had interviewed. Needless to say, other than jobs for physical labor, I was unsuccessful in my attempts.
By this time, the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. I was working in the NAACP offices on the day the Poor Peoples’ March on Washington came through Nashville. The more extremist black groups were in the office that day. It began to seem to me that unless a miracle happened, we were headed for a bloody race war. In hind sight, Martin Luther King and his message of non-violent protest was that miracle.
I began to search for something that would change people, not just laws. I went back to college to study Psychology and could see that it did have the potential for changing people who wanted to change. But, that was the rub. Most people either have no desire to change or can’t admit they need help to change.
About this time a couple who were part of our group of friends, began to talk about Jesus at parties. You could see people moving away, when Judy and Earl came in the door. The next thing we knew, Earl had given up his job in the family business, they were selling their home, and soliciting donations to support them in a full time ministry of evangelism with Campus Crusade for Christ. Most of us figured it was a temporary aberration and hoped they had set up trust funds for their children’s educations.
But, in my heart of hearts, I envied them believing in something enough to give up at least their lifestyle for it.
(to be continued.)