It was a costly battle for many whose family, profession, prestige “ even life itself were laid on the line. During the 1950s and 1960s the fight for dignity and human rights against bigotry, hate and apathy changed the lives of thousands of Americans.
I came across an out-of-print book by William H. Crook and Ross Coggins that tells the story of seven of those who fought the political intrigue, character assassination and obscene telephone calls endured by those who opposed segregation.
Coggins and Cross penned the 1971 book Seven Who Fought. It tells the stories of five ministers, a priest and a rabbi who took the command of Christ to love one another seriously. They and countless others stopped on their life’s journey to aid the Samaritans of that time.
Episcopalian rector Duncan Gray in Oxford and Meridian, Miss., knew the anguish and frustrations of those who believe all Americans had the right to vote and be treated as human beings. Gray stood his ground against the governor and a way of life built on discrimination and hate.
Robert McNeill had deep roots in the South. As the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Ga., he fought the rednecks and “responsible segregationists.” He was forced from his church.
Methodist Dallas Blanchard pressed for integration and brotherhood within the framework of his church in Alabama. He won some engagements with the bigots, but lived to see his victory tarnished and eroded.
Father William Warthling declared war on the Catholic Bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., who cared little for the inner city poor. This expose, like those of the Old Testament prophets, brought him not a promotion but suspension and he became an unemployed priest.
While down in the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans where Albert D’Orlando was pastor, his home then his church was firebombed. He came to treat his own death as a fairly casual thing. He could not change his views and would not shut his mouth.
For Rabbi Charles Mantinband in Hattiesburg, Miss., the threat from the White Citizens Council served only to bring the rabbi more into the fight for civil rights.
Albert Henry, pastor of an affluent suburban church in Birmingham, Ala., left the congregation and became an ambulance attendant. He was a Baptist turned Congregationalist. He said, “I began to see that my only hope for accomplishing anything was to get out of my situation and bear a personal witness of some kind.”
These brief sketches of seven who fought, each in his own way, are but a few of the thousands of Jews and Christians, editors and writers, managers and janitors, blacks and Anglos who helped break the bonds of apartheid in America.
President Lincoln, 100 years before, signed the death warrant for slavery. But the segregation that replaced slavery was not freedom. It would take men like Martin Luther King Jr. bravely speaking out and President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the law to cast off the chains of the black Americans. Segregation had been made law by some communities and states. Now the law of the whole land made the famous words a reality: “all men are created equal”.
I was just a boy when I heard my dad tell a friend that he had to go pay his poll tax. That is all of the conversation I remember and paid it no mind. Poll taxes were enacted between 1889 and 1910. The poll tax resulted in disenfranchising many blacks as well as poor whites, because payment of the tax was a prerequisite for voting. The 24th Amendment of 1964 ended the poll tax.
Recently I enjoyed a big bowl of an Italian bean soup. It was new and I don’t usually like new things. There were red beans, black beans, green beans, white beans and all shades of color in that tasty soup. Each bean makes a meal by itself which is good. But all together that bean soup was a terrific experience for my taste buds. Like the bean soup, the many cultures of America are good, each in their own way, but when they learn to live and work together they make for one terrific country.
Britt Towery is a former teacher, missionary and pastor who lives in San Angelo, Texas.