The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday was observed throughout the United States on Jan. 20, just days after the 91st birthday of this iconic civil rights leader. I am going to suggest to you that the celebration of the life of Dr. King held in Forest City on Jan. 20 had to be one of the more meaningful, historic and emotional ones held in the United States. Through the efforts of Ben Allaway, Immanuel Lutheran Church's director of worship and music, and a former Waldorf professor, and Waldorf University, we were able to become "eyewitnesses to history." Three individual came to Forest City for a convocation held at Waldorf the morning of Jan. 20 and they were featured at a Waldorf Community Artist Series presentation titled "Sing, Ebeneezer!, Songs and Stories from Martin Luther King's Neighborhood" held that evening at the Boman Fine Arts Center. Because of length restrictions I will in this piece focus on only one of them, the Rev. Dr. Albert Paul Brinson, who himself is an icon of the early civil rights movement and virtually a member of the King family. During his childhood Dr. Brinson spent a lot of time in the home of Martin Luther King, Sr., whom he referred to as his surrogate father. He became a close friend and "brother" of Martin, Jr. and his brother, A.D. Dr. Brinson along with Julian Bond, was one of the original organizers of the Atlanta Student Movement that beginning in March 1960, involved sit-ins and acts of civil disobedience which eventually led to the end of segregation in the south. Along with Andrew Young and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, he organized the famous Selma to Montgomery March.
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Seemingly without bitterness or rancor Dr. Brinson gave us an eyewitness account of growing up in the south in a time of blatant segregation and overt racism. He stated that as a "negro" boy, he knew what it was to be different, to live life as a "colored boy" sitting at the back of the bus or streetcar and using bathrooms and water fountains marked "colored." In 1960, while a student at Morehouse College, the "sit-ins" against racial discrimination in public restaurants in the south began. He became one of the organizing students of the "Appeal for Human Rights Committee." He said that they began to sing "We Shall Overcome," which provided a lifting theme of hope and inspiration after many funerals, protests and crusades.
Dr. Brinson said he will always remember Martin Luther King, Jr. telling him over and over again "it's not about you – it's about them." He said that God wants us to stand up for our "brothers and sisters." He stressed that people should celebrate what they have that is alike rather than looking for differences in others. He bemoaned the fact that we are becoming more of a me, me, me or self-centered society with people many times wondering "what's in it for me?" rather than "how can I help others?" Always looking for the positive, this amazing 81-year-old gentleman, rather than lamenting his very tough childhood in Atlanta, instead smiles and says Atlanta now has one of the best civil rights records of any large American city!
Raymond Beebe served as a vice president for Winnebago Industries Inc., for 38 years. He's currently president of the Forest City Education Foundation.