I was 29 when I attended the 1963 March on Washington. At the time I was the Assistant Pastor of Union Methodist Church and Executive Director of Cooper Comunity Center, both in Boston. I as an African American southerner, born in North Carolina who "grew up" in Texas, because of my experiences, had reservations about white people. White people, either through their initiation or their silence, were responsible for the racial discrimination that I, my family, and all Black persons experienced. "They" were responsible for the racial segregation that determined the hospital in which I was born, the neighborhood in which my family lived, the Church we attended, the stores where we could not "try on" clothing, the restaurants we could not patronize, the movie theaters where we had to sit in the balcony, Lake Junaluska that did not allow me as a member of the North Carolina Methodist Student Movement to swim with my white colleagues, and the rejection of my application for admission to Duke Divinity School because of my race. Boston and Boston University School of Theology became the city and the School, where I first found "acceptance", unlike the rejections because of my race, that I had known in North Carolina and Texas. And, from 1958 to 1962, I had the joyous experience of being the first African American Pastor of the Bryantville and West Duxbury Methodist Churches in Massachusetts. Although one or more families left the Churches because they could not embrace me as their Minister, Grace and I have never forgotten the love, acceptance and support we received in those two, 98% white membership Churches.
It was after my 4 years as Pastor of those churches, and one year of further graduate study at Harvard Divinity School (1962-63) that I went to the March on Washington in August of 1963. It was at the March, as I saw and rubbed shoulders with the white persons who were present, that I realized for the first time that there were white persons, whose commitment to racial justice and security about their own self worth, enabled them to be authentic and brave companions with me and Black persons in the quest for racial equality and equal access in church and society.
What does all of this mean re: Marilyn Bennett and Truth in Progress?
I have in my office, a number of pictures that portray me with Martin Luther King; in 1958 at Boston University School of Theology, and in April of 1965 when he came to Boston to lead our protests against the resistance of the Boston School Committee to racial integration. One of those pictures is of me with Dr. King, as I introduced him before he spoke to a rally on Boston Common.
But the picture, that today, evokes and provokes the most emotion within me, is a picture of Marilyn Bennett and me, in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It was Marilyn; white, lesbian, separated from the United Methodist Church because it could not affirm her because of her sexual orientation, and not me who suggested that Truth in Progress should go to Selma in June, 2010 because I had been there as a participant in the Selma to Montgomery March. I was reluctant to re-visit Brown Chapel AME Church where we gathered before the March. And, my memories of Rev. James Reeb the Unitarian Minister from Boston whom I had come to know, who was beaten in Selma and later died, this and more, kept me from initially understanding what relationship Selma had to the struggle for gay rights. But, it was Marilyn and her persistence about our going to Selma that caused me to make Martin Luther King's words; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", become almost a mantra for me as I have sought, through Truth in Progress, to explore the relationship between racism and heterosexism.
In this time when the Supreme Court issued rulings favoring marriage equality for same sex couples while at the same time, limiting affirmative action and voter rights for black people and others, it is important for Gay persons and the Gay rights movement, at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and beyond, to identify as never before, with the ongoing quest and struggle for racial justice.
Marilyn and I, from the beginnings of Truth in Progress have sought to model this.
May this month's March on Washington observances "institutionalize" this vision of solidarity and cooperation, that is at the core of Truth in Progress.
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