Category: Realizing the Dream

Social Ethicist and Scholar of Religions Jonathan L. Walton Is 2017 Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecturer

 

 


March 7, 2017

Tuscaloosa, Alabama — Dr. Jonathan L. Walton, a social ethicist and scholar of religions, is the 2017 Realizing the Dream distinguished lecturer. His address will take place Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in the Embassy Suites Ballroom.

Walton, who is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Professor of Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School, has published widely in scholarly journals including Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation; and Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. His work and insights have been featured in national and international news outlets including The New York Times, CNN and the BBC.

Walton’s research addresses the intersections of religion, politics and media culture. He joined the faculty at Harvard in July 2010 and has been the Plummer Professor since being appointed to that position by Harvard University President Drew Faust in 2012. He also serves as the Pusey Minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church.

Walton recently received the Bennie Service Award in Religion from one of his alma maters, Morehouse College in Atlanta, at its 29th annual “A Candle in the Dark Gala,” which honors the achievements of men in business, entertainment and religion.

In addition to earning the BA in political science from Morehouse, Walton earned his PhD in religion and society and the MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained Baptist minister.

Walton serves on several professional boards and committees, including the board of trustees at Princeton Theological Seminary and the national advisory board of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.

His Realizing the Dream lecture in Tuscaloosa is free and open to the public.

Each year, the community celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Realizing the Dream activities including a concert, Legacy Awards banquet, performing arts event, Unity Day programs and a lecture. The celebration, much of which takes place during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, is sponsored in part by an endowment from the Fiesta Bowl and is the work of an alliance comprised of Stillman College, Shelton State Community College, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and The University of Alabama.

Following Walton’s lecture, one additional event remains in the 2017 series. The Realizing the Dream performing arts event will be a sponsorship of Ragtime, the musical, presented by Theatre Tuscaloosa in cooperation with Shelton State Community College. Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, three inspiring stories of an upper-class wife who unexpectedly becomes a single mother, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring, young Harlem musician are woven together in this 1998 Tony Award-winning musical. The show will run from Friday, July 14–Sunday, July 23 at the Bean-Brown Theatre. Tickets go on sale Thursday, March 30. For tickets, visit http://www.theatretusc.com.


 The UA Division of Community Affairs was created in 2004 and is recognized nationally and internationally for its leadership in community engagement. The division provided the leadership for the recent reaffirmation of the University’s Carnegie curricular and community engagement classification. The division also publishes the Journal of Community Engaged Scholarship, one of the leading refereed journals in the field.

Quiñones and Rubio Encourage Students to Serve by Offering Their Unique Identities and Talents




By Taylor Armer
Graduate Assistant, Center for Community-Based Partnerships

ABC News correspondent John Quiñones and Realizing the Dream Legacy Award winner Isabel Rubio engaged with University of Alabama students and faculty in a spirited question and answer session prior to the awards ceremony on Friday, January 13 at the Bryant Conference Center.

Ninety minutes before the banquet where he delivered the keynote address and she accepted the Call to Conscience Award a gathering of 18 students and three faculty members shared stories of Americans growing up in the South during the 1960s and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence on their lives and careers.

Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!) said the push for equity and equality greatly influenced the founding of her organization and the work it has done over 18 years.

“I realized that we as a (Hispanic) community, especially in Birmingham, Alabama, and in the South, had an opportunity to see about doing things differently with this new, budding community of color,” Rubio said. Had she not been a “Mississippi Mexican,” she said, “the work we’ve done may not have been the same.”

Embracing one’s identity would develop as a theme throughout the conversation with students and faculty. Quiñones, a seventh-generation Texan with more than 30 years of broadcast journalism experience, said his life’s experience “uniquely qualified” him to tell the often unreported stories of the Hispanic community.

“We have to take advantage of who we are and our own histories,” Quiñones said. “As a Latino, I can share stories about Hispanics in this country because of where I come from, because of the language I speak, and because of the customs I understand.”

For Elayne Smith, an aspiring international journalist, hearing what Quiñones, Rubio and her peers said about the issues they believed important was an “eye-opening” experience. The senior journalism major from Marietta, Georgia, said the session also reinforced her concepts of reporting abroad on people of diverse backgrounds.

“No matter where I am, anywhere around the world,” she said. “I will keep in mind that there are other people who are different from me. Being reminded of my race and privilege is invaluable.”

Quiñones and Rubio also encouraged the students to use their identity in service to their communities. When Marissa Navarro, a junior in International Relations from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and president of the UA Hispanic-Latino Association, asked Quiñones how to motivate Latinos to pursue higher education, he called for a direct, interpersonal approach.

“I think we have to develop one-on-one relationships with these students at a young age,” he said. “As a Latina, you can do it and they will love you. They can connect with you and it will give them hope. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to do it personally.”

Rubio appealed to Navarro and the representative student body to remain fearless in their pursuit of change in their communities and beyond.

“We need you,” Rubio said. “It is the bright, energetic, fearless, courageous young folks who want to make a difference and give up a Friday night to be here, that have to be a champion and not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Realizing the Dream Weekend Celebrated at The University of Alabama



By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — The annual Realizing the Dream weekend began with a buzz of excitement at the Bryant Conference Center on The University of Alabama campus as students, faculty, staff, community members and award recipients past and present gathered in Sellers Auditorium Jan. 13 for the Legacy Awards Banquet.

This year’s theme, Realizing the Dream Through Acts of Courage and Compassion, highlighted the 28th annual event series, which celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and which is hosted by The University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Now in its ninth year, the banquet recognizes three individuals for their efforts in promoting the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and serves as an inspiring element of this annual weekend that celebrates King’s wide-ranging contributions to America.

This year’s awardees include Fan Yang, recipient of the Horizon Award, Isabel Rubio, recipient of the Call to Conscience Award, and the Rev. Wendell H. Paris Sr., recipient of the Mountaintop Award. Some 400 in attendance were able to hear from these individuals in their own words via a video presentation created by the Center for Public Television and Radio at UA.

Yang, a PhD student in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama, created an international pen-pal exchange that ultimately evolved into Heart Touch, a vibrant UA community outreach initiative that operates through UA’s Crossroads Community Center. Born of Yang’s heart for unity and social justice and following Dr. King’s dream of instilling a more culturally sensitive and inclusive mindset in our children, this initiative also serves as a powerful learning experience for its college volunteers and is spreading the dream beyond traditional borders to bridge the international cultural gaps at the root of global conflicts.

Rubio is the executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a nonprofit organization that facilitates the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic individuals and families through its educational, leadership-development programs. A native of Mississippi and a third-generation Mexican American, Rubio was greatly influenced by the changes brought to the state of Mississippi as a result of the struggle for civil rights. Founder of the coalition she now serves, Rubio earned degrees in history and social work and worked in social services for eight years in the greater Birmingham area prior to founding ¡HICA!.

Paris became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man enrolled in Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1961. A founding member of the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, a campus organization affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he helped register voters and participated in direct action campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi. Throughout his adult life he has been involved in a leadership capacity in activities that promote not only civil rights, but also economic development designed to sustain communities that are typically comprised of lower-income minorities. He received an honorary doctorate of humanities from the Ministerial Institute and College in West Point, Mississippi in 1978 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Man of the Year Award in 1988. In 1990, he was named a Charles Bannerman Fellow for Civil Rights and Civic Affairs. He presently serves as director of membership care and visitation with the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Keynote speaker John Quiñones, veteran ABC news figure and host and creator of the ethical dilemma news magazine “What Would You Do?” was the keynote speaker. Quiñones, a San Antonio, Texas native and seventh-generation Mexican American, shared the inspirational story of his life and career, from migrant farm work during his childhood to becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree thanks to the encouragement of his parents, his refusal to take no for an answer and the hand up he received from the Upward Bound program. He ended his talk by sharing a video clip that spoke to the importance and relevance of Dr. King’s message — past, present and future. (See related story and transcript of Quiñones’ message here.)

Prior to the banquet, Quiñones and Rubio met with a select group of UA journalism and American studies students in an informal question-and-answer session that was informative, enlightening and inspiring to these young people who will soon venture out to make their own marks on the world.

The weekend’s activities continued Sunday evening, January 15, with the Realizing the Dream concert featuring legendary gospel artist Kirk Franklin. The air in UA’s Moody Music Concert Hall felt electrified as the audience waited with anticipation for the start of the performance.

At 7:30, a hush grew over the audience as Lillian Roth, SGA president at The University of Alabama, welcomed guests to the sold-out performance and acknowledged the four entities that present the Realizing the Dream activities. Shelton State Ambassador Shontray Wilson introduced the Legacy Awards recipients to thunderous applause, followed by Troy Gibson, Stillman College SGA president, who introduced Franklin.

Franklin and his band did not disappoint, captivating the audience from the first note of their performance to the last. Their concert highlighted the distinctive gospel/R&B/hip-hop style for which Franklin has become known, in what could best be described as a mash-up of concert plus worship and praise service, all at a volume that, as one concertgoer was overheard saying, “blew the walls out of Moody.” The concert concluded with the traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome,” led by Franklin and his backup singers, as well as members of area choirs that he invited to join them on stage. (See related story here.)

Prior to the concert, attendees had the opportunity to view artwork on display in the lobby. Created by students in Tuscaloosa City Schools, this annual exhibition of new work is a tradition of the Realizing the Dream Concert.

The weekend’s activities concluded Jan. 16 on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with a Unity Day breakfast and march, as well as the annual mass rally that evening at First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa.

Two additional 2017 Realizing the Dream events remain. Dr. Jonathan L. Walton, a social ethicist and scholar of religions at Harvard Divinity School, is the distinguished lecturer for this year’s series. His lecture is scheduled for Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Ballroom in downtown Tuscaloosa. The performing arts event, scheduled to run July 14–23 at the Bean-Brown Theatre in Tuscaloosa, will be Ragtime, the musical.

Tickets are not required for the lecture. Tickets for Ragtime, the musical, will be available for purchase through the Bean-Brown Theatre box office at http://www.theatretusc.com beginning Thursday, March 30.

For additional information, visit the Realizing the Dream website, located at the UA Division of Community Affairs webpage at http://realizingthedream.ua.edu.


The Division of Community Affairs was created in 2004 and is recognized nationally and internationally for its leadership in community engagement. The division provided the leadership for the recent reaffirmation of the University’s Carnegie curricular and community engagement classification. The division also publishes the Journal of Community Engaged Scholarship, one of the leading refereed journals in the field.

UA Announces 2017 Realizing the Dream Schedule


Realizing the Dream

Visit the Realizing the Dream website for more information about the 2017 Banquet and Concert.



December 16, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Legendary gospel artist Kirk Franklin will be the featured performer for the 2017 Realizing the Dream Concert Sunday, January 15, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. at The University of Alabama’s Moody Music Concert Hall on campus. John Quiñones, veteran ABC news figure and host of the highly rated “What Would You Do?,” a hidden camera ethical dilemma television news program he created, will be the Legacy Awards Banquet speaker. The banquet will take place Friday, January 13, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. in the Bryant Conference Center Sellers Auditorium, also on campus.

This year’s theme, Realizing the Dream Through Acts of Courage and Compassion, will highlight the 28th annual Realizing the Dream event series, which celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and which is hosted by The University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

kf_publicity2

Franklin is the winner of 10 Grammy Awards, 39 Stellar Awards, 16 Dove Awards, eight NAACP Image Awards and two BET (Black Entertainment Television) Music Awards. Known as an incomparable artist, speaker, author, businessman and humanitarian, Franklin revolutionized gospel music and bridged the gap between the faith community and mainstream urban music culture. His fusion of the gospel message with hip-hop beats has made him a mainstay atop Billboard charts for more than 20 years.

quinones_john300  Quiñones has literally become “the face of doing the right thing” to millions of fans through “What Would You Do?” A San Antonio, Texas, native, he began his odds-defying journey as a migrant farm worker who, through the life-changing power of education and a lifetime of never taking no for an answer, has emerged as one of the most inspiring keynotes in the speaking world today.

At the Legacy Banquet, Wendell H. Paris Sr. will receive the Mountaintop Award, Isabel Rubio will receive the Call to Conscience Award and Fan Yang will receive the Horizon Award.

Paris became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man enrolled in Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1961. A founding member of the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, a campus organization affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he helped register voters and participated in direct action campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi. Throughout his adult life he has been involved in a leadership capacity in a variety of organizations and efforts that promote not only civil rights, but also economic development designed to sustain communities that are typically comprised of lower-income minorities. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Ministerial Institute and College in West Point, Mississippi in 1978 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Man of the Year Award in 1988. He was named a Charles Bannerman Fellow for Civil Rights and Civic Affairs in 1990. Having accepted the call to ministry, he presently serves as director of membership care and visitation with the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rubio serves as executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a  nonprofit organization that facilitates the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic individuals and families through its educational, leadership-development programs. A native of Mississippi and a third-generation Mexican American, Rubio was greatly influenced by the changes brought to the state of Mississippi as a result of the struggle for civil rights. Founder of the coalition she now serves, Rubio earned degrees in history and social work and worked in social services for eight years in the greater Birmingham area prior to founding ¡HICA!. She serves as treasurer for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, as well as on the boards of the Alabama Poverty Project, Alabama ARISE, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Brookwood Medical Center, Regions Financial Diversity Council and The University of Alabama’s Institutional Review Board.

A PhD student in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama, Yang created an international pen-pal exchange that ultimately evolved into Heart Touch, a vibrant UA community outreach program. Heart Touch collaborates with community partner Tuscaloosa’s One Place to conduct Chinese and Japanese culture lessons, hands-on activities, field trips and pen-pal programs that provide multicultural learning experiences for elementary-aged children whose schools are unlikely to have the resources to provide such enrichment opportunities. The program also serves as a powerful learning experience for its college volunteers. Born of Yang’s heart for unity and social justice, this program is realizing the dream beyond traditional borders to bridge international cultural gaps that are at the root of global conflicts.

Realizing the Dream partner the SCLC will sponsor Unity Day activities beginning at 7 a.m. Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, with the Unity Breakfast at Beulah Baptist Church. Judge Rickey McKinney will be the speaker. The Unity Day march will begin at noon from the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Beulah Baptist Church. The annual Mass Rally will begin at 6 p.m. at First African Baptist Church. The speaker will be the Rev. David Gay.

Legacy Banquet tickets are $25 for individuals or $200 for a table of 10. Dress is semiformal. Concert tickets are $15. Tickets for both events will go on sale through the Moody Music Building box office Wednesday, January 4, 2017.

Box office hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday; phone (205) 348-7111. For more information about Realizing the Dream activities and events, visit the website at http://realizingthedream.ua.edu. For questions, email community.affairs@ua.edu.


The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.

 

Veteran Network Journalist Digs Deeply in Telling Alabama’s Civil Rights Story at the Sixth Annual Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet

(Following is a transcript of John Cochran’s speech at the Legacy Banquet in Foster Auditorium, January 17, 2014. Cochran is a native of Montgomery and a graduate of the University of Alabama. The veteran broadcast journalist has worked for both ABC and NBC News.)

CochranForTranscript

I must tell you I was surprised to be asked to speak here tonight. Usually when I come to Tuscaloosa to speak I talk about politics or I tell stories about presidents I have covered. Sometimes I just tell Bear Bryant stories. Those are the ones that go over best. But tonight, it’s different. Tonight we are in Foster Auditorium, for goodness sake. Foster Auditorium, a landmark historical site in the struggle for civil rights.

So, what on earth am I doing here? I was not a civil rights activist. I have always been a journalist, a reporter, and reporters are observers. We only watch and report what we have seen.

And on top of that, I never reported on civil rights stories in my own country. I have only reported on the fight for human rights in other countries, in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

But I do have some credentials to be here. Because I was lucky enough to grow up in Montgomery, where the civil rights struggle really took off in the 1950s.

I want to talk about some people on both sides of that struggle — people I knew.

First, a woman named Arrie. An unusual name, I suppose. Spelled A-R-R-I-E. I last saw her more than 50 years ago … but I will never forget her.

In the mid 1950s she worked for my family as a maid. She was African-American. Arrie was, I guess, around 50 years old, maybe a bit older. She was an imposing woman, tall, erect. Wore glasses. Always dressed well, especially for someone who did not make a lot of money.

I did not know much about her home life. For the most part, she liked to keep her private life private. She was either divorced or a widow. She had a daughter in high school. She was very well spoken. It was always clear that she was intelligent.

If there is one word I would use to describe Arrie it is … dignified. I have been around presidents, prime ministers and captains of industry. But I have never known anyone with more dignity than Arrie.

So let’s set the stage. It is December 1, 1995. Late in the afternoon a very tired black woman takes a seat on a municipal bus. Her name is Rosa Parks. She works as a seamstress at a downtown store. She is also secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I’m sure you all know her story. The driver orders her to move to the rear. She does not. She is arrested.

She and others in the Civil Rights Movement had wanted a test case in the courts to challenge the state law requiring segregated seating. The federal government had already outlawed segregation on interstate travel. But black leaders wanted not only a test case, they also wanted to test the resolve of Montgomery’s white merchants by putting economic pressure on the white establishment.

Now, let’s look at what the Alabama law said. It basically said passengers had to sit where the bus driver told them to sit. But in actual practice it was not necessary to do this.

Whites knew the custom was for them to sit up front. Blacks knew they were supposed to sit in the back.

But here is where it gets even weirder. There was no line on the bus separating whites from blacks.

A clear line on the floor of the bus would have at least made some kind of perverted sense. But, in practice it was even worse. The custom was that whites, looking for an empty seat, could go as far back as they wanted. And if a white person reached the first row where a black person was seated, the black rider was expected to get up and move to the back.

Just think about that for a second.

You English majors have probably read Ernest Hemingway’s “Movable Feast.” Well, this was a moveable line. And Rosa Parks wasn’t having any of that when the bus driver told her to give up her seat. She had already had a run-in with the same driver some years before. And so, the bus boycott began.

It meant that blacks stopped riding buses, which were their principal mode of transportation. It meant that many of them were not able to get to the white-owned stores to buy things. It also meant that many domestic workers, mostly black women, could not get to work. A young black minister was chosen to lead the boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And that brings us to Arrie. She told my folks that she was going to do anything that Dr. King told her to do. She said that some blacks had formed car pools and she could get a car pool to take her to work in the mornings. But there was no car pool to take her home at 5 in the afternoon. So, she told my folks, it was up to them to find a solution.

And they quickly decided on a solution. Me!

I had just gotten my driver’s license, so every day after I got out of school it became my job to drive Arrie home.

How many of you have seen the movie, “Driving Miss Daisy”? It won an academy award several years ago. In it a black chauffeur played by Morgan Freeman drives Miss Daisy, an elderly white woman. He sits up front to drive; she sits in the back.

That was the way it was supposed to be in the South. Blacks and whites were never supposed to sit together. It was a rule. An unspoken rule, but a rule nonetheless.

So, when I would drive Arrie it was “Driving Miss Daisy,” only with the roles reversed. I was up front; Arrie was in the back. That went on for a few weeks until one day Arrie and I were walking out to the car, and she said, “Johnny, this is damn foolishness. I’m going to sit up front with you.” I said, “Well, all right Arrie. Whatever you want.”

So we would drive first through a white neighborhood, and people would stop and stare. They had never seen this before.

Then we would get to a black neighborhood where Arrie lived and even more people would stop and stare. This went on for a couple of months.

Then, one day Arrie and I had noticed that no one was paying attention to us anymore. People had gotten used to seeing us. The rule was no longer a rule.

But there were plenty of other rules. Let me go back a bit to when I was about 10 years old. Down the street from us was an elderly woman who employed a black maid. The maid had a son about my age and sometimes she would bring her son to work with her. His name was Benny. One day he walked across the street to a park where I played sandlot football with some other white kids. We asked if he wanted to play with us. He said sure, and for several days he joined us.

But one day he was not there.

We asked his mom where Benny was. She said she had left him at home and he would not be playing with us anymore. The woman she worked for had gotten a lot of anonymous phone calls saying we shouldn’t be playing together. The problem apparently was that we were playing a game where we touched each other. We not only touched, but we blocked and tackled, and knocked the stuffing out of each other. It was football after all.

Apparently if we had been playing some other kind of game, like croquet, it would have been OK because there would be no touching. But we did not play croquet in my neighborhood, and I never saw Benny again.

One thing you can say about the Deep South in those days, it was like living as a character in a play by Beckett or Pirandella — the theater of the absurd.

So back to the bus boycott and more theater of the absurd, that invisible but moveable line on buses.

When the boycott started, Dr. King and other leaders had offered a compromise. They said put a real, visible line separating black seating from white so that when the white section was full, then whites would have to stand up instead of taking seats from blacks. The white city fathers turned down the compromise.

A year later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any segregation on city buses was illegal. There would be no lines, visible or invisible. And from December 1956, blacks could sit wherever they wanted.

It was a total victory for Dr. King, but it did not come easily. Many blacks literally wore out their shoes walking to work or to school. Houses were bombed. Dr. King and others were put in jail. Some blacks lost their jobs because their white employers were vengeful. And some, like Arrie, felt they might lose their jobs but went ahead anyway.

Once city buses were integrated, many whites, not all but many, wondered why they had fought it so long. The unthinkable had become not only normal, but routine.
The same would happen six or seven years later with school desegregation. I was just about to start high school at Sidney Lanier High when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision came down from the Supreme Court. I remember at the time some whites saying the first black kid that steps inside Lanier will be a dead kid. But that’s not what happened.

In Montgomery black and white leaders worked hard to prevent violence and they succeeded. Of course, over time many white parents took their kids out of public schools and put them in white academies. But at least violence was avoided.

And not all efforts at integration were successful. When my younger sister, Mary Ann, was in high school, she heard Dr. King speak and was very much taken with the civil rights movement. I was already living up north. Mary Ann was and is very religious. She has always asked, “What would Jesus do?” And so at the age of 16, she tried to integrate our church. One Sunday morning she took the hand of one of Dr. King’s top lieutenants, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and walked with him up the stairs of the First Baptist Church. An ABC News camera crew was filming what could possibly be an historic moment. High drama, or so it seemed.

But when the church ushers saw what was coming, they shut the doors and one of them said to my sister: “Mary Ann, does your mama know what you are doing? What’s the matter with you? Get on out of here, now.”

And so, with the doors shut, she and Dr. Abernathy retreated in ignominious failure. No history was made that day. But I was proud of her for trying. And she was the lead story on the National ABC News that night. She later spent several years working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was firebombed out of the house where she was living in Tennessee.

Of course, the first attempt to integrate this University also ended ignominiously. You are all familiar with Autherine Lucy, who was actually admitted in 1956 but then was suspended and eventually expelled on the flimsy excuse that her presence endangered her and others. It was not a proud moment for the university or those who loudly protested her admission.
It took seven long years before Vivian Malone and James Hood tried to enroll.

Last year the university marked the 50th anniversary on several occasions and one of the speakers was former Governor George Wallace’s daughter, Peggy. Let’s take a look at Wallace.
I first met him during his first run for governor in 1958. Some of you younger folks may not know it, but in that race he was the nearest thing to a liberal or at least a racial moderate in that race. He did well in the Democratic primary, but lost in a run-off to a man who was backed by the Ku Klux Klan.

At the time the Klan still had some influence. I well remember the first time I drove from Montgomery here. On approaching the Tuscaloosa city limits one of the first signs I saw was one that said, “The Ku Klux Klan Welcome you to Tuscaloosa.”

Now wasn’t that nice of the Klan? That sign stayed there for several years.

While I was a student here, I worked at a downtown radio station that no longer exists. I discovered one day that my boss, the general manager, belonged to the Klan. I was stunned. I told him that I had never heard him say anything racist. He just laughed and said, “Oh. The Klan. I just did that because it’s good for business. I don’t go to their meetings. But some of them have businesses that advertise with us.”

And the Klan was a factor in defeating George Wallace. He decided that in the next election he would play the race card and he did, successfully. He was elected in 1962. I was a student at the time having come back after serving in the Army. I had been stationed at the White House where I wore civilian clothes and worked for President John Kennedy’s press secretary.

My job was a technical one, to make audio recordings of the president and to deal with anything related to audio such as microphones and public address systems.
I’m wandering off topic here, but I want to tell you about the night President Kennedy spoke to a pep rally here in Foster. Kennedy and I were in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Coach Bryant accepted the award for the nation’s best football team. At one point during the banquet, the president, Coach Bryant and I, along with some trustees and famous alumni, went upstairs to a suite where we had set up a telephone line to Foster.

The auditorium was packed with students. Kennedy got on the phone and went on and on about how when he was at Harvard in the 1930s, he followed the exploits of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I was standing beside him and I still have a picture of the two of us. I have sort of a quizzical look on my face. Frankly, I doubted he had spent any time at all at Harvard following the Crimson Tide. But the folks here at Foster loved it.

But now let’s move ahead a year later. I am back in school here. And Wallace has just been elected governor.
One afternoon I was in class at what used to be the Union Building. It’s now Phifer Hall. The Dean’s secretary comes into the classroom and says, “John, you have a call from the White House.” So I went to the Dean’s Office and on the other end of the phone was the White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton. Cecil said, “I just saw a pal of yours walk into the Oval Office.” I said, “Who?” He said, “The president of your school, Frank Rose.” I said we were hardly pals and that he didn’t even know me.

After Cecil and I chatted a bit, I hung up and called Dr. Rose’s office. I smelled a good news story here. I was an aspiring journalist and wouldn’t it be great to break a story like this. I asked President Rose’s secretary if he was in his office, and she said, “No, he is on fundraising trip in Houston, Texas.”

I said I didn’t think so, that he was actually in the Oval Office talking to the president. She said … just hang on a minute. It was more like 3 or 4 minutes and then she came back and said could I get over to the president’s office immediately? The number two official at the University would like to speak to me. He was a very nice man named Jefferson Bennett. He said “John, you love this university, don’t you? And you wouldn’t do anything to harm the University, would you? But if you go public with this it will infuriate George Wallace. If he knows Dr. Rose is meeting with John and Robert Kennedy to discuss how to integrate this school, Wallace will be very vengeful toward the University. And so will some people in the state legislature.”

So, I had to decide between my ambition to be a journalist and loyalty to the university. I think it was a close call for a few minutes, but I decided to keep my mouth shut.

I graduated a few months later, so I was not here the following June when Wallace made his infamous stand in the schoolhouse door. Our master of ceremonies tonight, Culpepper Clark, is the expert on what transpired then. And if you want to learn more I suggest you read his book entitled: “The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s last stand at the University of Alabama.”

As you know, Governor Wallace retreated that day and the students were admitted. Vivian Malone is no longer with us. She died in 2005. He sister, Sharon, spoke here last year. She is a prominent doctor in Washington and is married to the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. When I told her I would be here tonight, I asked if there was anything she wanted me to pass on for her on Vivian.

She wanted me to remind you that her big sister’s fight for civil rights did not end when she graduated in 1965.

Let me quote Sharon’s remarks about Vivian:

“The issue of civil rights was a lifelong commitment for her. From her first job in the newly formed civil rights division of the Justice Department to her last job as the head of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs at EPA, she continued the fight for civil rights for all Americans. As a testament to the strength of her spirit and to her continued presence, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, has established ‘The Vivian Malone Jones Legacy Award’ which will be given to an EPA employee who has made exemplary contributions to social justice. And to close this historic arc, to ensure her safety and to protect her civil rights as a citizen of the State of Alabama, required the commitment and active participation of the president and the attorney general of the United States. And today my husband, Attorney General Eric Holder, has the responsibility and the privilege of enforcing those same civil rights. Fifty years has brought about many changes, and although we still have much work to do, I think Vivian would be extremely proud of where we are today.”

Those are the remarks that Vivian’s kid sister, Sharon, wanted to share with you tonight.

The integration of the University was a milestone. That very night President Kennedy went on national television and for the first time promised action on civil rights. He was the first president to say that civil rights was a moral issue. Until that night, Dr. King and other black leaders had been disappointed and frustrated by Kennedy’s reluctance to push for significant legislation. Kennedy did not live long enough to see his proposals become law. As you know, after his assassination Lyndon Johnson managed to persuade a reluctant Congress to pass bills banning discrimination in housing, public facilities, interstate commerce, and perhaps most important of all, a bill guaranteeing the right to vote.

At the time white Southerners were very powerful in Congress. They warned Johnson that if he continued to push for civil rights, then Democrats would lose the South. Johnson said he realized that but he had to do it.

Why did he have to do it? Well, partly he felt he had an obligation to carry out John Kennedy’s program. And as Johnson’s biographers have written, he had long felt that he had to help minorities. As a young schoolteacher in Texas, he saw discrimination not only against blacks but also Hispanic kids.

Recently, some of us who served in John Kennedy’s White House had a dinner on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Because Lyndon Johnson also served in that administration as vice president, his daughter, Lynda Bird, was invited. I asked her if there was an additional reason that her father fought so hard for civil rights.

She immediately said yes, that before he became president, the family had a black man working for them at their house in Washington. He was very close to the family. One night at his home he became very ill and an ambulance was called for. But no ambulance came because he was in a black neighborhood.

Lynda Bird said her father was furious, never forgot it, and when he became president he did something about it.

When you look back at what resulted from the confrontation outside this auditorium, it is quite remarkable. One thing that happened is that it propelled George Wallace into the national consciousness.

I had some more dealings with him and so did my family. My much younger brother was in junior high school with Wallace’s son, George Jr., who as you know later became a politician himself. One day my mother got a call from the school saying my brother had gotten into fight with the governor’s son.

Some years later Wallace was starting his second run for the presidency. I went down to Montgomery to interview him. And when I walked into his office, I said, “I’m not sure you remember me.” He said, “Yeah, I remember you. You’re the guy whose brother beat the hell out of my kid.”

I crossed paths with Wallace several times over the years. In 1972 he was shot and paralyzed in a Maryland suburb just outside Washington. I covered that as a reporter, but privately I also met at the hospital with his second wife, Cornelia, whom I had grown up with. It was a terrible time for them. He was in severe pain and deeply depressed.

But while he was in the hospital in Maryland, he was visited by a black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm from New York. Here is her account of their meeting. He told her that her supporters would not like the fact that she came to see him. She said she didn’t care what they thought. At that, he cried and cried and cried.

Some years later I was in Montgomery to visit my mother and his third wife called me. She asked if I would come by the governor’s mansion. She said it might cheer him up.

So I did and was taken up to his bedroom where he was in his hospital bed watching the news on TV. The national news was just ending and the local and state news was just starting. I said, “Governor, you want to watch this. I’ll just sit here and watch it with you.” “No,” he said, “I don’t care about this, I only care about national and international news,” and he clicked off the TV set. He still thought of himself as a national political figure even though in reality those days were long gone. He wanted me to tell him the latest in Washington politics and gossip.

We talked for about an hour. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember we spent a long time talking, of all things, about 19th century European history. Any of you students majoring in history will appreciate this. He loved history, and he started talking about the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Wallace talked about the diplomats there, Talleyrand from France and Metternich from Austria, and so on.

After a while I felt he was tiring, so I took my leave. But I remember walking down the steps from the mansion and thinking, “Well, that was pretty weird.”

The next time and last time I saw him was when my wife, Barbara, and I were visiting my mother. Wallace was no longer governor. He was divorced and lived alone except for a young black man on whom Wallace was totally dependent.

We spent an afternoon at his bedside in his home. Barbara had never met him, and he spent much of that time trying to convince her that he had never been a segregationist. He rarely looked at me. We had known each other too long and he knew he could not convince me. But I do think his views changed after he was shot.

When he died, ABC asked me to cover his funeral even though it had nothing to do with my job of covering the White House. Wallace lay in state in the Capitol just a few steps from where Jefferson Davis as sworn in as president of the Confederacy. I was just outside with my camera crew interviewing people after they paid their respects. Many were black people who appreciated that in his last term Wallace had put many blacks in state jobs. Finally, one very sophisticated looking young black woman came out. I asked why she had come. She said, “I wanted to see up close the face of evil.”

Before I leave the subject of Wallace, I want to relate to you a story that a well-known African- American, Vernon Jordan, tells. Vernon is a past president of a civil rights group, the Urban League, and is now a prominent lawyer in Washington and New York. He is also known as perhaps Bill Clinton’s closest friend.

Eight years after Wallace was shot, Vernon was shot by a white supremacist. He almost died. The first telegram of sympathy Vernon received was from Wallace.

A few years after he was shot, Vernon was asked to speak in Montgomery at a predominantly black high school. Just before he started to speak, Vernon saw state troopers pushing Wallace’s wheelchair into the auditorium. Vernon went ahead with his speech, which was critical of Wallace’s policies.

After Vernon finished, the Troopers carried Wallace’s wheelchair up to the stage.

Vernon went over to him, and Wallace said, “I can’t get out of this chair, so I want to ask you a favor. I want you to reach down and hug me.” Vernon did. Now I want to quote to you some remarks that Vernon sent me when I told him I would be with you tonight. This is Vernon speaking now:

“This is the absolute, God-honest truth. The former governor of this state, a mean old racist who once stood in the schoolhouse door to keep out the black people, could no longer stand at all. And yet, he wished he could stand — not to set himself defiantly athwart history —but rather to embrace me as a brother. I tell you that was one hell of a transformation.” Those are Vernon’s words. He thought you might want to hear them.

You will be glad to hear that I am moving into the home stretch with my remarks. But since we are celebrating Dr. King’s birthday Monday, I want to talk about his impact that I saw overseas. In Poland in the early ’80s, the Communists declared martial law and imprisoned many anti-communists. During that time I met secretly with some who had escaped capture. They were not discouraged. They knew they would win in the end. They told me, “Look at how long it took Martin Luther King.” And they were right. Seven years later the Communist regime collapsed.

In the mid-’80s in South Africa, the white government also declared martial law. I heard the same things there. “Dr. King overcame. We will, too.” Next to Nelson Mandela and possibly Mahatma Ghandi, I believe he was the person black South Africans most admired.

And in this country Dr. King’s struggles spurred others to fight for women’s rights and gay rights. And how about the disabled? It took a quarter century after the Civil Rights Acts of the ’60s, but after a long hard battle, the disabled in 1990 won their fight in Congress for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Young people may say the battles have all been won. There is nothing left to fight for. Wrong! Here’s just one example. Lately there have been attempts to suppress the votes of minorities. Now there is a fight worth getting into.

And it started all those years ago in Montgomery. So, I am honored to take part in Dr. King’s birthday party. But, as a Montgomery boy, I also want to remember all the people who took part in the historic bus boycott, especially Rosa Parks and my driving partner, Arrie.

I met Rosa Parks once when she was receiving an honor at the White House. I said, “We’re from the same town, Montgomery.” She just laughed and said, “Montgomery… my, my. My, my.”

She eventually moved from Montgomery, ending her days in Detroit. So did Arrie, who had relatives in Detroit. I know that they knew each other in Montgomery, but I have no idea whether they got together in Detroit.

But I like to think they did. I like to think of them in old age, sitting in their rocking chairs, just sitting and rocking, and looking back at their part in how they changed the world.

My, my. My, my.

Thank you.

Realizing the Dream Concert 2013: The Performers

Take 6 

The most awarded vocal group in history (including 10 Grammy Awards, 10 Dove Awards and a Soul Train Award) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Members are Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Joel Kibble, Dave Thomas, Alvin Chea and Khristian Dentley.

Six virtuosic voices unite in crystal-clear a cappella harmony against a backdrop of syncopated rhythms, innovative arrangements and funky grooves that bubble into an intoxicating brew of gospel, jazz, R&B and pop. With praise from Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald and Whitney Houston, the multiplatinum-selling sextet has toured across the globe, collaborated across genres, and is recognized as one of the pre-eminent a cappella groups in the world.

At Walmart’s 50th anniversary celebration, Take 6 captivated the audience with its rendition of the Louis Armstrong hit “What a Wonderful World.” Two weeks later, at the behest of producer Phil Ramone, Take 6 thrilled the audience at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards performing with and honoring singer‐songwriter Ben E. King on his classic “Stand by Me.” As a group that knows no musical bounds, Take 6 then brought the house down with its tribute to Woody Guthrie with “This Land Is Your Land.”

Take 6 began in 1980 at Huntsville’s Oakwood College. When they signed to Reprise Records/Warner Bros. in 1987, they took the name Take 6, a play on the Take 5 jazz standard and the fact there are 6 in the group. Their debut album in 1988 won over jazz and pop critics, scored two Grammys and landed them in the Take 6’s debut CD won over jazz and pop critics, scored two 1988 Grammy Awards and landed them in the Top 10 Billboard Contemporary Jazz and Contemporary Christian Charts. Take 6’s 2012 recording on Shanachie is notable because the group returns to its spiritual heritage.

As Take 6 celebrates its 25th Anniversary with a brand new show for the Realizing the Dream Concert, they will share memories of the past as well as reveal what the future holds.

The Aeolians

The Aeolians of Oakwood University began in 1946, the creation of Dr. Eva B. Dykes. The choir has traveled widely, touching the hearts of both young and old. Subsequent conductors include Joni Pierre-Louis, Harold Anthony, Dr. Jon Robertson, Dr. Alma M. Blackmon, Dr. John Dennison, Dr. Ricky Little (a former Aeolian), Eurydice Osterman, Michele Cleveland, Lloyd Mallory, Julie Moore, Norman Crarey, Dr. Wayne Bucknor (a former Aeolian) and the current director, Dr. Jason Max Ferdinand (a former Aeolian).

The Aeolians have performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and other prominent national as well as international venues, more than 200 concerts in the United States, Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and Canada. Performances at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Dallas (1980) led to an invitation from the Polish SDA Church in Warsaw, Poland, to tour that country.

Aeolian concerts present a repertoire of choral music that ranges from the Baroque era to the 21st century to Negro spirituals and work songs, which express the yearnings of their forefathers to be free as demonstrated in the group’s album “Oh Freedom” (1974), which sold more than 10,000 copies.

Under the direction of Ferdinand and accompanied on the piano by Dr. Wayne Bucknor, chairperson of the music department of Oakwood University, the choir placed first in 2010 and 2011 in the iSing HBCU Challenge hosted by Reid Temple AME Church in Lanham, Md. In December 2011, the Aeolians were presented with the keys to the city of Huntsville with Dec. 3 the day named in their honor.

In January 2012, as part of the Russia-U.S. Bilateral Presidential Commission on development of cooperation between Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, the Aeolians were invited to sing at the Moscow International Performing Arts Center. Topping off a stellar 2011–2012 performance season, the Aeolians earned gold medals in all three categories of entrance and the overall championship in the Spiritual category at the Seventh World Choir Games held in Cincinnati.