Dr. Sheri Adams led a class on Civil Rights and Religion in May 2009 which included a tour of key historic sites from the Civil Rights Movement. One of the places we visited was the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage where Martin and Coretta King lived during their ministry there. This story comes from that experience.
I am standing in my Grandmother Martin’s kitchen. It’s true: Grandmama died nearly 14 years ago and her kitchen was dismantled long before that, but I’m telling you, this is her kitchen.
Her resin dishes are laid out on the Formica table ready for supper—though I remember them being a pale pink, not this mint green. The table setting includes a bowl of pecans. Granddaddy often collected pecans from the yard to be cracked after supper; and for the record, he and Grandmama called them “pea ca’ns,” giving equal emphasis to the first two syllables and letting the third one slip in for free. (Only those uppity carpet-baggers from the North used the term “puhcahns,” spitting out the “puh” just to get to the “cahns.”)
The ceramic napkin holder is new to me. I’m not surprised it’s in her kitchen though since it has strawberries on it; Grandmama did love her strawberries. Her oven, probably still hot from cooking biscuits, looks like it always did and her Frigidaire does too. The coffee pot—a percolator—has not changed at all. The kitchen shelves hold the usual, everything from Jewel® shortening to HotShot® bug killer in the pump and shoot tin can. Granddaddy murdered many a 6-legged intruder with that beastly weapon.
“’Get out of town within three days,’ the caller threatened, ‘or you’ll be sorry,’” The docent’s words drew me out of my reverie. “Martin knew this threat was different.”
“The call had awakened him and he could not get back to sleep, so he left Coretta and newborn Yolanda asleep, and came in here to the kitchen.”
This kitchen: this kitchen that looked so much like my Grandmama’s.
“He made himself a cup of coffee, but says he never even took a sip. And he sat down at his kitchen table. By the way, most everything in the parsonage here is authentic; however, this table is not the one that was here at that time, but it is very much like the one Martin sat at that night.”
(And it’s very much like the one my Grandparents sat at in their kitchen in Georgia during those very same years.)
My divinity school colleagues—19 of us counting students and professors—crowded into the parsonage's tiny kitchen and stood around the little table. Studying civil rights and religion, we were travelling to significant sites in the South, learning more about faith’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Coming to the end of this tour of the Birmingham parsonage of Martin Luther King, Jr., we found ourselves spellbound by our guide’s retelling of the famous “kitchen table epiphany.”
“Martin sat here, full of despair. He thought of Coretta, and baby Yolanda. He thought of all the threatening phone calls. He thought of all he had to lose. He sat here in the wee hours of that morning and cried out to God, confessing his own doubts, his own weaknesses.
“When Martin recalled the story, he said it was at that moment of confession that he heard the voice of Jesus say to him, ‘Martin Luther stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ He heard Jesus tell him he would never be alone, no matter what.” The docent looked up to heaven, lifting her hands as if in thanksgiving. Then looking down, she shook her head slowly.
“And he didn’t give up. Not even three days later when his house, this house, was bombed. You see Martin was right: the call he got that night was more than just a prank. It was a real threat. What a blessing that Martin had just reaffirmed his calling and his faith right here in this kitchen.”
This Montgomery, Alabama kitchen that belonged to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an African American Baptist preacher and the leader of the Civil Rights movement. This kitchen:so familiar to me that it could have been in the Albany, Georgia home of Mrs. Mabel Louise Martin, my white, Southern Baptist grandmama.
1. I can worship however I want. Or not. Church. I love it.
2. Public School. I take it for granted (I do) that my kids have gotten to go to school in their own neighborhood for the cost of supplies and minimal fees.
3. Washington, DC. Love that city: the restaurants, the museums, the history. Plus it has one of my daughters now, so it's even better.
4. Rosa Parks. What a woman. Proud to say we share the same nationality.
5. The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because of this legislation, I have friends and mentors I never would have known. Thanks be to God.
7. The Gettysburg Address. These few words carry a magnitude of meaning. Also the economy of verbiage taught me more about writing than any class ever has.
8. Public Libraries. Ahhh. Where memories are made and dreams are formed.
9. Blue Ridge Mountains. Home.
10. Gardner-Webb University. My third and favorite alma mater.
11. The South. Flawed though it may be, it is still my home. And I love it.
12. Free Speech. I have a lot to say.
13. Roger Williams. He was nearly 30 when he arrived on North American shores, but what he did for religious freedom in America transformed our future.
14. White Lake, NC. The setting of my childhood family vacations. It sounds like joy there.
15. Jury Duty. I've got opinions.
16. Voting. Lots of opinions . . .
17. Fourth of July Fireworks. Caveat: OFFICIAL 4th of July fireworks. All the booms and explosions in backyards for the week preceding the actual event drive me kind of crazy--mainly because my beloved Charlie (may he rest in peace) was terrified of them. But the actual celebrations? The official, safe, sanctioned productions? Oh I love those. So beautiful, so exciting, so fun.
18. Denzel Washington. I like beauty. I just do.
What is something you love about America?
A lot of folk fought and died for this right we enjoy. Make sure you thank them by voting today!
Published initially on: Nov 10, 2012
Top 10: Things I Love about Elections in the USA
America. It really is beautiful, isn't it?
“What’s that,” he said, adjusting his Jansport® backpack. Nathaniel, a first semester community college student, had a solid A in my class due to his impeccable study habits and his professional approach to college. That day, he looked no different than he had every other time I’d seen him—like a stereotypical Ivy League co-ed: short hair, styled fashionably; wire-rimmed glasses; starched button-down shirt; dark blue jeans with a leather belt; and dressy shoes--Sperry’s® I think.
The question I had for Nathaniel arose from a conversation I’d had with an acquaintance the previous day. That month in our community, a 19 year old African American man was shot and killed by a police officer. The young man was allegedly breaking and entering, and officers believed he was carrying a gun. (When he was shot, he was in fact unarmed, though he had been carrying a weapon earlier. You can read the full story here.) This shooting death hit close to home: AJ Marion had graduated with my oldest daughter. He’d been a promising football star and by all accounts, just a really nice guy. Undoubtedly, he’d made some poor choices along the way; most assumed though, that he’d right himself sooner rather than later.
Anyway, I’d seen a mom I knew from my kids’ elementary school days. Her son was about the same age as my kids; I asked if he’d been friends with AJ. She explained that indeed her family and AJ’s were connected through church and family ties and that they were all shocked and devastated.
We talked for a while about the prevalence of police shootings of African American men and then she said, “Oh yeah, I tell my son that if I ever catch him out without his id, I’ll take him into the police station myself.”
Huh? “Um, say what now?”
She repeated herself, but it didn’t help. I had no idea what she meant.
“You don’t make sure your son has his id when he goes out?” she asked me.
“Well, I mean, I tell him not to drive without his license if that’s what you mean.”
“No. What I mean is a police officer can detain anyone and ask for identification. If you don’t have your id, they can take you in for questioning.”
“Absolutely. So I just randomly ask my son for his id just to make sure he always has it with him,” she laughed a little cuz-I’m-the-mama-that’s-why laugh.
“Oh my gosh. I had no idea,” I said, as realization dawned. “I guess I didn’t have to know though. My son is white.”
She nodded. “Mothers of African American boys live in fear of our sons being wrongly accused or worse.”
Heartbreaking. Unbelievable. And in 21st century USA.
I thought of my student Nathaniel. Could this be his reality as well?
“It’s a nosy question, Nathaniel, so feel free to tell me to get out of your business.”
“Sure Ms. Aileen, what’s up?” (Despite the fact that I invite my students to call me by my first name, Nathaniel never did, opting for a title he deemed more respectful.)
“Have you been stopped by police and asked for your id?”
He laughed, “Today?”
“Ms. Aileen, I’m stopped several times a week, sometimes every day. I get stopped walking from my car or downtown. I’ve even been stopped walking away from this campus. If I have a ball cap or hoodie on, I know I’ll be stopped.” He patted the pocket of his designer jeans. “Got my id right here.”
“This is outrageous!” I said, “How do you not stay furious every single day?”
“Oh, I used to,” Nathaniel said, shaking his head. “But it really doesn’t help to get angry about it. I just figure I’ll keep working on myself, keep going to college, keep moving up, ya know?”
Actually, I didn’t know. I could not imagine how hard it would be to keep a positive attitude while facing such blatant discrimination. “You’re a fine man Nathaniel. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. I had no idea.”
“Thanks. It’s all good. Gotta go to class. See ya Thursday.”
My son, a 6’3”, 18 year old who regularly wears hoodies and ball caps, has never been stopped by the police. Never.
Nathaniel, a 5’8” twenty something who looks for all the world like a future lawyer, doctor, or banker gets stopped weekly, at least.
It’s not all good. Not even close.
*Nathaniel's name has been changed to protect his identity. I asked my daughter to give me a man's name that sounded like a doctor's name. This is what she chose.Still think racism doesn't really exist? Take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti5ZFmglzV4 Want to know how big the problem is? Then watch this video: http://youtu.be/tkpUyB2xgTM
It took both twins using both hands to open the door of Weaverville’s Well-Bred Bakery & Café (and that with their mom giving it an extra push from above). Their hand prints clung to the glass, only 24 inches above the sidewalk outside. They raced in, eyes darting to the treats beckoning from the pastry case.
“Yum, yum, yum!” the little girl said, all rosy cheeked and eager. She squatted down, her knees by her shoulders, placed both hands on the glass, and began a sort of gleeful chant. Her brother scurried over and their eyes seemed to grow as they took in the vision before them.
“Two cakes, three forks, three plates?” The question was addressed to the mom, not the three year olds whose eyelashes were fluttering against the case.
The kids hopped over to the closest table, climbed into their chairs, and began what they’d come to do. I turned to their mom.
“That’s what we all really want to do when we come to Well-Bred,” I told her. “For some reason, we just hold back.”
"Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes - God takes pleasure in your pleasure!" Ecclesiastes 9:7 (The Message)
This from 2013 demanded another run as the term "government shutdown" gets bandied about again.
10 Things I’ve learned (or been reminded of) during the government shutdown:
July 16, 2013
It really, no kidding, could have been my son.
My 17 year old boy, broader than many and taller than most, must seem imposing, threatening even. I know this because a few weeks ago, when my son was in a place he had every right to be, doing something he’d been asked to do by a responsible adult, he raised the hackles of a concerned neighbor (I’ll call that person Watchdog). It was dark, and Watchdog caught sight of my boy and panicked. Rather than going home and calling 911 though, Watchdog approached and confronted my son, warning him to leave the property. Luckily, my husband happened to be with our son that night; he addressed Watchdog, reassuring that all was well.
The next day, Watchdog (who is actually a nice person who seems to have only the best intentions at heart) expressed to the homeowner—the one who had hired my boy in the first place—concern about the events of the previous night. After implying ownership of a firearm, Watchdog then said something like, “This could have turned out very differently, perhaps even tragically.”
It didn’t though. My son wasn’t shot. Watchdog didn’t have a weapon on him at the time, so there’s that. Plus my son is Caucasian, the same ethnicity as Watchdog. And we’ll never know what could have happened that night if circumstances had been different. I can’t help but wonder though.
Consider the findings reported in this video. It’s a clip from the television program What Would You Do with John Quinones. This show creates public scenarios involving moral or ethical issues; hidden video cameras record the reactions of observers. In this clip, two different actors hired by the show attempt to steal a bicycle in a public park. Both men—one Caucasian, one African American—are similarly attired, appearing much like my son would have looked the night Watchdog challenged him.
Here’s what you’ll see when you watch the video. The white male is occasionally questioned, but most people walk by and say nothing. The black male, though? He’s on the verge of being attacked. Witnesses become downright aggressive. People are snapping pictures, taking video, snatching his tools. Are you kidding me? It’s unbelievable. Or it would be, if it were not so frighteningly common.
Racism. It’s pervasive and it's deadly. See, no matter what you think about the recent verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, two things will not be changed: 17 year old student Trayvon Martin will still be dead, and Zimmerman will still be free. What can be changed though, is the mindset that led to this tragedy in the first place. Let’s put ourselves on trial. Let’s ask ourselves convicting questions.
And if we find ourselves guilty on any counts of racism, let’s sentence ourselves to life with a new attitude—an attitude of mercy, love, and grace. Now that’s justice.
. . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 NRSV
Like many crises, the whole thing came down to a good pair of shoes. You see, the Confederacy was running out of everything, shoes included. Remember, theirs was an agrarian society. Industry and manufacturing were situated primarily in the North, so shoes were pretty hard to come by down South.
It was on account of this shoe shortage that the Confederate soldiers ventured into Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. While there, Johnny Reb bumped into Billy Yank; the ensuing scuffle led to a fight that led to a battle that would go on for three days.
The fighting was relentless. By the evening of July 3, casualties exceeded 45,000. The next day, both sides rested; on July 5th, Confederate General Robert E. Lee retreated with weary, disheartened troops who still lacked shoes with intact soles.
Over the next few months, plans were made to establish an official military graveyard on the Gettysburg battlefield. On November 19, 1863, citizens gathered for a ceremony to dedicate that cemetery. The main speaker spoke for two hours (his name was Edward Everett; history has forgotten his words) and then President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most memorable speeches in our nation’s history.
I can only imagine how exhausted Lincoln was. Sure, the war had turned and victory seemed within reach. But the country was still divided, while countless soldiers—many of them younger than his sons—gave their lives for the sake of the Union.
The Gettysburg Address was less than 300 words and took only a few minutes to deliver. Its message, though is timeless, and much deeper than it is long.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the last day of the battle. You can read the Gettysburg Address in a post I wrote a few years ago on Lincoln's birthday. Take the time. You'll be glad you did.
After reading a couple of essays and completing further research, I'd like to add to my comments about Paula Deen. I tend to be an optimist and one of my (many) mantras is, “Maybe there is something I don't know.” I applied this to Deen’s comments and opted for grace over criticism. I still default to grace, but editorials written independently by Michael Twitty and Daryl K. Washington have caused me to consider the whole thing in more depth.
In his "Open Letter to Paula Deen." Culinary Historian Michael W. Twitty “speak[s] to [Paula Deen] as a fellow Southerner, a cousin if you will, not as a combatant.” Also a Southern chef of considerable acclaim, Twitty is more frustrated by systemic racism than by Deen’s infamous remarks. He describes at length the incessant bias written into culinary history. It’s fascinating; it’s also unsettling and provocative, making me wonder how many of our language patterns are rooted in racism. For that reason alone, you should read it. But it’s this comment Twitty makes to Paula Deen that redirected my thoughts:
Some have said you are not a racist. Sorry, I don't believe that…I am more of the Avenue Q type—everybody’s—you guessed it—a little bit racist. This is nothing to be proud of no more than we are proud of our other sins and foibles. It’s something we should work against.
Now understand, part of my very identity, right up there with being Baptist, is my intolerance of ethnic prejudice. So I chafe at the idea that we are all racist, even me. But Twitty gave me pause for thought, and I have to agree that I have definite biases—not in regard to ethnicity, but still . . . . Twitty says, I “should work against” the intolerances I hold, not defend them. I think he’s right. Paula Deen should do the same.
Dallas attorney Daryl K. Washington expressed his concerns in an editorial on blacklegalissues.com. In his opening, Washington says this: “For one, many people have been making this incident about the ‘N’ word only, but it's much more than that.” He doesn't defend her use of this slur (and please note neither do I), but he simply states that there is more at issue here than bigoted expressions. The case brought against Deen is less about speech and more about practice. Read Washington’s summary to understand more about the accusations. (Oh, and while it really should not matter, the plaintiff--accuser--is a white woman from Georgia, just like Paula Deen.)
Washington explains what caused him to review the Deen case in depth: “When I learned about the major companies dropping Paula Deen without being demanded to do so, I knew it was deep.” See that’s something I had not considered. (Here again, there was something I didn't know. So often that's the case.) Washington studied the court documents and found appalling claims. In my opinion, if she’s guilty of even half of them, she should not be allowed to run a business without strict accountability. These allegations—made by a woman who, demographically, could be mistaken for Deen—are absolutely abhorrent. Read more about them here.
Michael Twitty, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen,” http://afroculinaria.com/2013/06/25/an-open-letter-to-paula-deen/
Daryl K. Washington, “The Paula Deen Incident; You should know all that’s being alleged before defending her,” http://www.blacklegalissues.com/Article_Details.aspx?artclid=7dfdbe0461.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers,” http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html
Sadiq Green, “Paula Deen case is not solely about how she used the N-word,” http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/353435
Fran Jeffries and Wayne Washington, “Paula Deen Scandal Continues As Employees Tell Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Of Alleged Discrimination,” http://tinyurl.com/nx6lw3b.
Selma, Alabama. March 21, 1965.
They came from every tribe and every nation, from sea to shining sea. They walked shoulder to shoulder, and arm in arm. They were black, brown, yellow, red, and white: 25,000 freedom non-fighters in solidarity for equality.
I will always be humbled by and filled with gratitude for the actions of those who have gone before me to secure the freedoms which I hold so dear. As the good Rev. Dr. King said, "no one is free until we are all free."