Black History: The power of love

It’s Black History month. Once again, our nation celebrates the amazing contributions of African-American men and women who overcame daunting odds to better our society. Over a hundred and fifty years have passed, since Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. According to www.history.com, “…[Lincoln] issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’” The historical website also records, “While the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war, transforming the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom.” Ultimately, slavery was abolished, but our nation has continued to fight the enemy of racism.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t aware of discrimination. All I knew was that when Clemmie hugged me or my brothers and sisters, or took care of my very ill mother, she loved us. Her skin was dark brown, and we were white and didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow God made us family in the worst of times. She fed us, bandaged scraped knees, and painstakingly nursed my mother back to health. Clemmie was a compassionate worker of miracles, that’s why at six-years-old I didn’t know racism existed.

Rosa Parks is booked.

But since it was the 1960’s, while growing up I became conscious of the battle for civil rights listening to nightly news casts. There were riots, valiant lunch-counter sit-ins, courageous Rosa Parks taking a seat on the bus, heroic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated, and there were more riots. For the next couple decades, there were also folks who tried to overcome the racial tension that never really healed.

Fast forward to the 1990s, to a humid summer evening when I was driving by myself. I heard beautiful music coming from a small church that I passed. I felt so alone and like such a failure that particular night. I was a young single mom doing my best, but it just wasn’t good enough in lots of ways. I had been refinishing furniture earlier that afternoon, and my white t-shirt and old jeans were soiled with wood stain. I stood next to my car listening to the melodious voices of what sounded like a Heavenly soulful choir, desperately wishing I could go inside the unfamiliar fellowship.

The sign said that the Lima church was AME [African Methodist Episcopal]. Over 25 years ago, AME churches had almost exclusively black congregations. Just then, another car pulled up and a couple of older black women got out and headed towards the brick church. One grandmotherly lady stopped to ask if I was alright. I told her that I was listening to the beautiful music. Maybe she could sense that I was a troubled soul or maybe she was simply kind, but she encouraged me to come inside the church.

“But I’m such a mess,” I protested pointing to my stained shirt and jeans.

“It’s not how you go. It’s that you go,” she countered enthusiastically. So, dutifully I followed her up the steps of that church where in the years to come I would be a welcome visitor on numerous occasions.

There were two ladies who attended the church who would also become close friends, Maggie Breaston, and her sister, the late Georgia Newsome. Growing up in the south and moving to the Midwest in the mid-1950s to escape racism, these courageous women told me story after story about the subtle racism they encountered once they arrived in the north. Yet, they refused to become bitter. Miss Georgia even became known as an expert on Black History in Lima.

In the end, what I know about Black History is that people who could have hated me for the color of my white skin, showed me love when I needed it most. Unconditional love like Clemmie displayed by helping my family, love like the woman who invited me to her church, or love like Georgia Newsome and Maggie Breaston always shared, despite experiencing the sting of discrimination firsthand.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that love was the only force capable of destroying prejudice. To quote Dr. King Jr., “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Why we celebrate MLK Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1986, our country celebrated the first Martin Luther King Jr. day. It all began just four days after King’s April 4, 1968 assassination when U.S. rep. John Conyers Jr., D-MI, first submitted legislation to commemorate the slain civil rights leader’s Jan. 15th birthday. Then in 1970 Congress received petitions with more than six million signatures in favor of the act. Finally, in November 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Act.

Christopher Columbus and George Washington are the only other individuals having a national holiday in their honor. Some critics have questioned why one national leader, regardless of how esteemed, should have his birthday celebrated claiming there were presidents and statesmen who also deserve recognition.

Twenty years ago, Seattle Times reporter Paul Andrews wrote, “The odds against the new holiday were imposing. The arguments opposing it – cost to taxpayers, singling him out over others – have been used for decades to resist creation of any new holiday.” Still, there are imposing reasons for it. The late minister appears not to have been motivated by political strategy or notoriety, but was a nonviolent warrior championing the rights of all men. Born Jan. 15, 1929, in segregated Atlanta to a pastor and a former schoolteacher, King later followed his father’s professional footsteps.

He enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary after earning his Bachelor’s degree in 1948 from Morehouse College in Atlanta. By 1955, he had completed his doctoral dissertation. He and his wife, Coretta Scott King moved to Montgomery, AL, to begin a pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. It was there that King’s fight for civil rights began when he mobilized the black community during a 382 day boycott of the Montgomery bus lines. It was sparked by an incident when a young African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. At first, the new pastor was reluctant to get involved, but eventually he accepted leadership of the movement.

Rosa Parks is booked.

Rosa Parks is booked.

His leadership was based on “a doctrine of nonviolent protest taking the Christian principle of turning the other cheek out of the pulpit and onto the street,” according to a 1997 A&E television documentary. King said, “We strive to advocate nonviolence and passive resistance and still determine to use the weapon of love.”

Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public transportation was unconstitutional. But there had already been a cost to King. He had to overcome arrest, violent harassment, and the bombing of his home. He also began receiving “up to 50 letters or phone calls a day, that he should leave town or face death,” according to King biographer David Garrow. He said, “King was resigned to the fact that his leadership role inevitably meant that sooner or later he would be killed.” King persevered in his nonviolent battle against segregation, despite the fact that the violent persecution against him never ceased. He was stabbed in New York in 1958. He was also jailed in a state penitentiary in the early 1960s for sitting at an Atlanta lunch counter that was for whites’ only.

1963 March onWashingtonIn 1965, there was the “Selma” movement as King Jr. led the cause of gaining equal voting rights, despite documented violence. The recently released movie has been highly debated for historical inaccuracy regarding the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson. Still, it is not a documentary, but an important Hollywood remembrance of a bloody 50-year-old struggle. Perhaps though, King Jr. is best known for the glorious moment in 1963 when he spoke to a crowd of 250,000 people gathered for the March in Washington, which was organized to support the Civil Rights Bill.

Yet he didn’t want to be remembered for earthly accolades. He told this to the congregation of Ebenezer Baptist Church two months prior to his assassination. That day, King spoke about the kind of funeral he would like to have, wanting there to be no mention of his 1964 Nobel Peace or countless other awards. Rather, he asked that someone say, “Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others.”

MLK Jr. was a world changer, but not a perfect man. He was a flawed human being like all of us, who had a dream and followed it, despite the weighty cost. His own Christian theology would assert that he is “free at last,” living in the “promised land.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com