Thanks to the Air Force, this Montanan lived for almost 17 years in Montgomery Alabama. Within a block of the state capitol, one could see the church where Martin Luther King jr preached, stand where Jefferson Davis took his oath of office as president of the Confederacy, and visit the telegraph office from where the telegram beginning the Civil War was sent.
As a student of history, this was a fascinating place to live. I’ve crossed the Selma bridge innumerable times. I’ve visited the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, and the Baptist Church across the street from it, where little children were killed by a bomb set off there.
I spent a lot of my free time working in the inner city. I was ward mission leader and/or in the stake mission presidency for 9 years. In 1986, we opened missionary work to the blacks in Montgomery. I was the group leader opening up the church in Tuskegee Alabama, until the first branch was organized 6 months later.
Of all such experiences, one of my favorites was getting to know Johnnie Carr. Johnnie was one of Rosa Parks’ best friends when she was arrested for riding in the front of the bus. She was there that night the bus boycott was organized. Johnnie succeeded Martin Luther King jr as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which she presided over until her death 5 years ago this month. Along with Rosa and MLKjr, she is considered one of the three topmost people in the early Civil Rights Movement.
Of all the major Civil Rights leaders that came out of Montgomery, she was the only one who stayed, living across the street from a park where in decades past she was not allowed to enter because of the color of her skin.
In her later years, her work with the MIA was focused not on Civil Rights as much, but helping poor black youth to return to their important heritage. She was saddened by how today’s youth have forgotten the struggle for freedom and a better life, and have instead turned into drug dealers and gangsters. She actively worked to keep kids in school, away from drugs and gangs, and for a return to strong families and education.
To me, it still shocks me to think that the peaceful activism that Johnnie and others sought has been forgotten by so many, and replaced with a lifestyle with no history nor vision. To be educated means one is “acting white.” For many in the inner cities, they feel their only way ahead is to deal drugs or steal. Fathers are no longer in the home, but are just sperm donors. The “N” word, which I’ve grown to hate has much as any other dirty word, is commonly used by young blacks – ignoring the history of that ugly word. Many of them have become what Johnnie and the others sought so hard to free them from: they are enslaving themselves.
I hope that in this month of February, Black History Month, that we all embrace it as OUR History Month. The story of Martin Luther King jr, Alex Haley, Frederick Williams, George Washington Carver