What would King think?
Phillip M. Jones | 1/9/2013, 5 p.m.
African Americans have been the most rapidly advancing oppressed people in the history of the world, according to some major historians. To come from brutal and hard slavery, with virtually no legal basic human rights, to rise to lawmakers, local leaders and ultimately the presidency of the United States of America within a 400-year span is a feat surpassed by few, if any other people.
African American advancement has come in increments and spurts, with some of the greatest acceleration in social, political, cultural and legal advancement led by the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King. By most historical assessments, the most phenomenal aspect of this rise and advancement from a brutal slave past through the Jim Crow era and into the present is that Dr. King led people out of bondage without using brutality or violence.
"We didn't fire one shot; we didn't lynch one person," said Andrew Marrisett, one of the first four of the paid field staff workers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Birmingham, Ala. SCLC is the civil rights organization King helped co-found in January 1957 in the wake of the Montgomery bus boycott. It would serve as a major springboard to launch the careers of numerous African Americans, but beyond that SCLC was a model that would lend its tactics and successes to oganizations well outside of the Black community.
Beyond grooming key leaders like Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, SCLC helped grow grassroots people like Marrisett, Cathy Deppe and Ken Cloke into local leaders, who were inspired to fight for change in their communities.
King's work through SCLC also helped to inspire, motivate and lead the women's movement, the peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the fight for human rights by Hispanics, Whites, and other races here in America, and oppressed nations around the world.
Marrisett got to know Dr. King personally because he was the SCLC's go-to guy for errands, conveniences and personal necessities for King and his staff in Birmingham.
"We did it with nonviolence and our minds, bodies and souls, and of course with the help of God," Marrisett said.
Marrisett spoke of a time and way of life forgotten by many. He speaks with a southern drawl, in an eloquent manner for a man with not much formal education, as he described a time in the 1940s when many Blacks in southern and rural areas, who were then referred to as 'coloreds,' were all but totally unaware of the freedoms that were already gained and enjoyed by Blacks in the North.
Now at age 74, his memories of the civil rights years remain sharp and vivid. He is the only surviving member of the four initial paid SCLC field staff that included James Orange, Elizabeth Hayes and Robert Seals. This was a job within the SCLC similar to what Medgar Evers did as an organizer and recruiter with the NAACP. And this, along with his driving duties for the church, gave him frequent contact with Dr. King.