The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses the crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech during the Aug. 28, 1963 march on Washington, D.C. Photo by the U.S. Marine Corps

GNJ Stories of Race at the 50th Anniversary of King Assassination

May 1, 2018 | GNJ News

On April 4, 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated for his faithful work toward radical justice and reconciliation. In a letter to GNJ leaders, Bishop John called on GNJ to recommit to ending racism and to see everyone as equal and to work for justice for all of God’s people.

“We all have a story of how we, or someone we know has been hurt, harmed or disadvantaged by a person of another race,” he said. “What would it look like for each of us to have 100 stories about a positive relationship with a person of another race and begin to tell these stories every day? Let it begin with me and you.”  Schol said

He extended an invitation to the people of GNJ to share stories of having witnessed racial equality or a person of another race helping someone out. Below are a few of those stories:

The Stories

“In sixth grade I had a teacher from India, Hanshi Deshbandhu. I often think learning from her has kept me from racism in my life. In addition, having a God who is “colorblind” when seeing the human race has been a lifelong philosophy. Deshbandhu was a wonderful teacher. We had a small but diverse class at the Friends School in Mullica Hill and she went on to become the school administrator. I have co-workers who are Christians and also Indian. We share God with each other as sisters in Christ. During the Lenten season I shared devotionals with them, and one, a Sunday school teacher, was excited to share it with her class.” 

– Kay Hutchinson, Trinity UMC- Mullica Hill

“I see Martin Luther King as a 20th century Moses who was fighting for justice and equality. It rings to mind a song sung by Sandy Patti, ‘in heaven’s eyes there are no losers, in heaven’s eyes no hopeless cause, only people like you with feelings like me amazed by the grace emerges can find, in heaven’s eyes.’”

– Valerie Robinson

“I have a friend and colleague who I used to work with closely. She is a lawyer like me.  She grew up in Philadelphia, in a Christian middle class family.  I grew up in a mostly white, mostly upper class area.  Both of our fathers happen to be pastors.  At the time I met her, any time there were discussions of race, I would always say – ‘But I don’t see race when I look at a person.  I just see that person.’  I don’t think I’m the only white person to ever say that.

She taught me that to look at people of other races like that or to see people of other races without seeing their race was almost as bad as only seeing their race.  She taught me that who she is cannot be separated from her race; her experiences and personality have all been developed because she is black and because she is a woman. What she taught me is that as a white woman, I will never really be able to get it, what it is like to be her, or be black, but I can accept it and seek to recognize what that means.  All I need to do is keep having respectful conversations and keep seeking understanding.

So this year when we had a very publicized racial incident in our high school, the district had a public meeting and I tried to explain to all the people in the room, the majority of which were white, how they couldn’t possibly get it, but that was okay.  Because what they needed to do was acknowledge they don’t and keep the conversation going. I can only hope that what I said, because of what my friend taught me, had an impact on another person in that room just as my friend has had a lasting impact on me.” 

– Megan E. Watson , First UMC, Glassboro

“In 1985 while a Middler at the former Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was asked by a District Superintendent in Delaware to supply a three point charge in Port Deposit, MD while they waited for the appointee to return from the mission field in Ecuador. The charge consisted of two white and one African-American congregations. At the time, the Conference had to reach into the mission field to find a pastor, as no white pastor would shepherd the African American church and neither would the white congregations accept an African American pastor.

The charge was located in Appalachia, across the Susquehanna River in a poor, rural community with few job opportunities. Upon arrival I discovered the first white church was polite but had little vitality. The other church was more of a family chapel, and they wanted to keep it that way. The African American congregation was a breath of the Spirit. The church had recently rebuilt after a devastating fire. The original building was constructed by former slaves. Immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation, the farm owner asked his former slaves if they would stay on and he would pay wages and give them the land and materials to build the church. And so they agreed. These former slaves were such skilled artisans, the foundation that still remains was cut by hand so precisely no mortar was used to hold the stones together.

At the afternoon service, I didn’t have to preach. This was around the time “Roots”, the TV series had aired. The congregation asked representatives from their original families to speak on their families’ roots. There were some amazing stories shared form the pulpit each Sunday afternoon and it was standing room only, unlike the morning service where approximately 20 attended. I was the only white person in the house, but my skin color didn’t matter because I was there to serve the church on behalf of Christ. It was the most amazing two weeks of my ministry. And the dinners that followed, OMG! The best food I ever ate. Men and women had cooked for hours setting up tables in the basement.   I knew I had been blessed. My only hope is that I left them with some blessings as well.”

– Rich Leaver

“As a Native American, I hear comments like, “If you want to come to America, learn to speak our language,” and I cringe. The first languages in our country were those of indigenous peoples. The insensitivity both to those who have long been in America and those who wish to be American is disheartening.

Recently I was approached by a woman in the grocery store. She asked if I was of Native American descent. I shared with with her that I was Cherokee and was raised as part the PowWow district. She sighed and looked me in the eyes. With tears she told me that her family came to America on the Mayflower. Weeping, she apologized.

Though the differences of our families occurred long ago, in that moment we felt it profoundly. It was a beautiful moment of understanding and reconciliation.”

– Anna Gillette, Marlton UMC, Marlton

“When I was a young girl in grade school there was an African American woman who had me over to her home numerous times a week telling me stories and teaching me how to be kind and loving to others, not to mention the hospitality of honey cornbread for a snack. My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Hayes, was a big part of who I am today. She taught me a lot about how to deal with diversity with other people. She was very patient when I struggled to understand something. She has since gone home to be with the Lord, but often I think of the impact she’s had on me”

– Tracy Dormida, Simply Grace UMC, Bloomsbury.

“When I was in 7th grade I walked to my bus stop every day and there was an African American girl that would wait for me and walk to and from school. The conversations and company meant a lot to me.”

– Madelon Smith, age 90, Simply Grace UMC, Bloomsbury.