Words and Deeds

It was just a short sermon. By a minister I'd never heard of. In a place where some told me I shouldn't even be. It was a night I would never forget.

In the late 1950s, I took a position in a Southern city. For a gal raised and educated in Connecticut, the attitudes I encountered concerning race were unacceptable. Still, I really did nothing to show how I felt.

Then the evening newspaper announced a benefit concert for a small black church, a building in desperate need of repairs. The event was to be held in the civic auditorium. The guest was the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. I loved her music.

But my neighbors and co-workers told me I shouldn't go. That it was a "black event." I talked my roommate into going with me. I think she was terrified.

A smiling lady sold us two tickets. A smiling teen showed us to front-row seats. The lady already seated there said, "Welcome, girls." I looked around. I didn't see any other white people.

The evening started with a solo by the wife of the minister of the church in need. When she finished, I started to raise my hands to applaud. The lady beside me grabbed my hands quickly. "You clap at an entertainment, honey," she told me. "You say 'amen' at a gospel singing."

Miss Jackson limped onstage because of a sprained ankle. She sang her heart out. She wasn't about to let that little church down.

She was magnificent.

During a short break, a young minister who had traveled with Miss Jackson spoke. He had a resounding voice and a great deal to say in such a short time. He assured those listening that each of them was important. That each mattered. And he said something I've especially remembered over these years.

"Remember, our talents, our abilities are God's gifts to us. How we use them is our gift to God."

The name of that young minister was Martin Luther King Jr.

As we were about to leave after the concert, we were amazed to see King coming toward us. He had something to say to my friend and me.

"Young ladies," he said, "please tell your friends that you had a good evening with your black sisters and brothers. It might help."

I'm white. But God gave me brothers and sisters who are black and yellow and red and brown. It took a young pastor from Atlanta I'd never heard of to start me thinking about that fact. In a few words. In a place some said I shouldn't even be.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Speech at the Civil Rights March on Washington (Aug. 28, 1963)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

'Letter From the Birmingham Jail' Atlantic Monthly (Aug. 1963)

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize (Dec. 11, 1964)

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