Two Who Marched with King

October 1, 2009

In early September 2009, while in Atlanta as a guest of the huge Dragon*Con convention, I was able to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and pay my respects at the King burial site, as well as tour the King Birth Home. These sites were especially meaningful to me.

As a Humanist, one of the activities of which I am proudest was my civil rights work during the 1960s. At the University of Kentucky I helped found a Campus Committee on Human Rights (which promptly achieved desegregation of on-campus housing) and picketed the nearby federal building after the Selma crisis. Later (like President Obama) I was a community organizer. I served as a VISTA Volunteer in Carroll County, Georgia, in 1967–1968. I also participated in confronting the Ku Klux Klan in two dangerous camp-ins in Forsythe County, Georgia, to attempt to end the exclusion of blacks there.

Especially memorable for me was marching with Dr. King on a rainy Friday morning, March 5, 1964, in Frankfort, Kentucky. The throng of thousands included folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary. We were there in an attempt to convince the state legislature to pass public-accommodations legislation. We were unsuccessful, but later there would be big gains in ending discrimination.

Forty-five years later, on September 7, 2009, I met a fellow King marcher in Atlanta. He was Rev. G.H. Williams, who serves as a guide at the MLK National Historic Site, a four-block attraction that includes the King Birth Home. Only fifteen ticketed people at a time are allowed in the house where King was born in 1929. Rev. Williams led our short but brisk walk there and regaled us with facts and stories as we moved through the two-story dwelling. He briefly mentioned his civil rights work with Dr. King and told how his own home had had to be put under police protection.

As we neared the end of the tour I mentioned that I had also marched with Dr. King and, as we went outside, Rev. Williams vigorously clasped my hand for a photograph, then fished in his pocket for a business card to give me. Although we had marched with King at different times and places, and had never met, we were now no longer strangers.