Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, January 15, 2018



I have watched and listened to MLK’s “I have a dream” speech many times. I know those words almost by heart. His speeches that I remember best, though, are ones from which I can’t remember any specific words. I remember them because I was there.

The first was during the Montgomery bus boycott. A group in Indianapolis had invited him up for an evening speech. Loyd Bates, IU’s Methodist campus minister, took a car load of us to hear him. This hillbilly liberal from a Sundown [1] County was eager to hear a real civil right leader.

A cinema discussion group from the Nashville, IN UMC asked me to sit in on their discussion of the movie, “Mississippi Burning,” even though I had not seen it, because I had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In that conversation, Bill Todd asked me when I had become aware of civil rights as a cause. I had never thought about that before. All I could say was, “I can’t remember when I was not aware of it.”

As I grew up, race was all around us. We were told that there was a “nigger in the woodshed,” and we were instructed to not let go if we caught a nigger by the toe. Brazil nuts were “nigger toes.” My father and his 4 foot ten inch sister had even joined the KKK when they were teens. [2] But my mother was always a contrarian, and in the case of race relations, that was a good thing. She insisted that her children not say or do anything disrespectful to anyone. I was always aware that “Negroes” were mistreated, and that it was wrong to do so.

Until I went to college, my only direct contact with a black person was with Mrs. Dickerson, who lived next door to us in Indianapolis, before we moved away when I was ten. She was old and lived alone, the only black person in the whole of the near east side. Sometimes she asked my mother to let me run an errand for her. On those occasions, she rewarded me with a nickel. I thought that was swell.

The second time I heard Martin Luther King, Jr. in person was when he was speaking on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. It was at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. The Alabama Methodist Student Movement had asked the Indiana MSM to send people down to march with them on the last day, to be part of the crowd at the capitol building. [3] Each campus minister was asked to bring a faculty member and a student, so that every campus would be represented. [4] I was the campus minister at Indiana State and took Andre’ Hammonds, sociology professor, and Bob Mullens, journalism major. Andre’ was the first black person to get a PhD from the U of TN. [5]

There are always those who want to deny rights, civil and otherwise, to those who are different from them. So human rights is always an issue. We remember and honor MLK to remind us of that one basic Christian principle that my mother told me by saying “No one is inferior. Everyone deserves respect.” The march to the statehouse never ends.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

1] Sundown places were so known for the slogan, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on your head here.” Some places even had signs to that effect. Gibson County was mixed on that issue. It had always had Sundowners, and it also had active stops for the Underground Railroad.

2] Mostly because there was a sign-up tent at the county fair and it didn’t cost much. Cousin Elizabeth, Aunt Helen’s daughter, remembers her mother saying it was maybe a nickel, maybe only a penny. The very fact of a tent at the county fair that signed up children for the KKK says a lot about the times.

3] The organizers did not want all of us there throughout the entire march because the logistics of food and sanitation and such would be overwhelming.

4] I write of this more completely in my book, The Strange Calling.

5] In an interesting moment of fate, Andre’ and Dorcas Hammonds and Bob Kochtitzky were the only guests at daughter Katie’s first birthday party in Terre Haute. Bob was the famous Mississippi civil rights leader—Jackson businessman turned Christian entrepreneur--whose own house was bombed at one time, with a cross burned on his lawn. Later he founded the LAOS [Laymen’s Overseas Service] and Alternatives [to commercial Christmas] organizations. We had become friends while students together at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.

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