Meeting Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. signing the program
for my parents

"Best Wishes, Martin Luther King"

KKK going down the street

more KKK members marching in front of
the church on their way to the capital burn the
North Vietnamese flag.

In December of 1967 my parents were stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. My father was an Air Force JAG (Air Force laywer) and my mother was pregnant with me. My father was reading The Montgomery Advertiser, which at the time was divided into a white section and a black section. On the front page of the newspaper there was an article about the Klu Klux Klan demonstrating at the capital to burn the North Vietnamese flag. As my father read through the paper he noticed a small article in the back of the black section that said Martin Luther King, Jr. would be coming to town to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he had formerly been a minister.

You would imagine that if Martin Luther King, Jr. were coming to town today that THAT would be on the front page. But the article was small and easy to miss. My father felt lucky he saw it because he knew this could be an historic moment. My parents went down to the church and parked on the side road. Immediately after they parked, men in suits (presumably undercover FBI agents) inspected my parents car. A church member, Seal Ray, gave my father a program. After the service, my parents stood below the steps of the church watching Dr. King shake hands and say goodbye to his parishioners. My mother asked "Dr. King, would you sign the program" as my father took the pictures. As Reverend King signed the program "Best Wishes, Martin Luther King" he glanced at the Klu Klux Klan assembling at the capitol. Four months later, he would be assassinated.

About 25 years later, Jason and I were stationed at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. We drove up to Montgomery. Alabama and the world had changed in only 20 years. There was no fear of the Klan. Everyone of all colors, cultures, etc were at restaurants and shopping malls. There were no segregated bathrooms. We had friends in mixed marriages and beautiful children born from those marriages.

Now, 43 years later, hearing Rev. King's uplifting "I Have a Dream" speech still inspires us. And while I know our world isn't perfect, we must be encouraged by how far we've come and we must continue to keep the dream alive and all do our part to strive for justice and equality for all.

"...somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
This is our hope. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" --Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.


Lori McDonough said…
I know i've heard you tell this story and read it before in previous emails you've sent out. But, it still gives me goosebumps and puts a lump in my throat. Thanks again, for sharing with us.

sukey said…
not surprised to have never heard this story before but so glad i checked in today and got to read the tale and see the pictures.wonderful memories. thanks for sharing.
Amoreena said…
What an amazing story, Maili. Love this. Thank you so much for sharing so much with all of us. I'm amazed with how your father spotted that little notice in the paper! Such seemingly little things can mean so very much. Every "little" incident affects so many people!
Amoreena said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camille said…
What a great story! I'm so glad you're all my family and so glad we have this way of keeping up, despite the distance.

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