It is such an honor to be able to sit among those who have lived a long life and listen to them as they share important nuggets of history that we can only read about. Nikkaris Surratt, OCS teacher, brought the idea of having this visitor talk to our students in hopes that he would be influential for all who had the opportunity to hear him. Dr. Withers did not hesitate to say yes.

You could literally hear a pin drop as Rev. Dr. Jesse Douglas, Sr. spoke to the auditorium filled with juniors and seniors at South Rowan High School in January. Dr. Douglas’ eloquent delivery as he spoke about his journey with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others was not only impressive, but inspiring. Dr. Douglas, 89-year old pastor, civil rights activist and vocalist, graced us with his presence and his calming spirit. 

 

Attentive South Rowan High School students listening to Rev. Dr. Douglas.

 

I am My Brother’s Keeper

Dr. Douglas had a great relationship with Dr. King. They both had much in common.  They were young black ministers who believed in fighting for equal rights for mankind. Both of them committed to taking a stand and doing it without violence, causing them to take the risk of losing their lives to those who did not share the same belief of racial equality. Dr. King trusted Dr. Douglas because he was dependable and if he was appointed a task, it was sure to get done. Dr. Douglas is widely known as the “unidentified white man” in a picture with Dr. King and John Lewis as they lead a march to the Montgomery County Courthouse for the negotiation of protocols for protest demonstrations with city officials. When we think of and hear of the Civil Rights Movement, we often don’t think about those who were working so diligently behind the scenes to make our world a better place. 

 

“An Unidentified Whiteman,” the Mint Hill Times.

 

An Agent for Change

Dr. Douglas, a native of New Orleans, LA, not only marched with Dr. King, but he made an impact on his community and the entire state of Georgia. Dr. Douglas was instrumental in winning the case Douglas vs. Valenberg involving the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), that ended segregation at “all facilities at the capitol building in Atlanta, GA.” Dr. Douglas recalls conversing and strategizing with A.D. King, Dr. King’s brother, on how they were going to have a nonviolent protest at a lunch counter in Georgia. Dr. Douglas said he went in first and was served a meal. His counterparts came in later and were not served, but rather arrested. Because of Dr. Douglas’ fair skinned complexion and blue eyes, many thought he was white. Dr. Douglas indicated that the people thought he was a white sympathizer. Dr. Douglas worked behind the scenes to coordinate the Selma to Montgomery marches. That was a pivotal time for African Americans being able to register to vote. The state of Alabama did all that they could, even killed, to prevent this from happening, but Dr. Douglas did not back down. His faith in God and his commitment of protesting non-violently was important to him. It sustained him.   

 

Student, Parker Anderson, listening to Rev. Dr. Douglas’ wise words.

 

Show Thanks 

As Dr. Douglas shared his journey with us, I could not help but be thankful for the progress we have made, but at the same time it motivated me to be the change for a better tomorrow.  “We’ve come quite a way, but there is still a long way to go,” Dr. Jesse Douglas stated. I was intrigued by his ability to recollect his journey and I could even imagine myself on it with him. As Sabrina Hough, our Crosby Scholars representative indicated, “He became the identified African American today. His message was strong, precise, and undeniably heartfelt, servant leader,” Hough emotionally stated. 

Dr. Withers disclosed that she hoped that our students could see that although they may learn about events as history, many were not so long ago. Rev. Douglas’ visit was meant to inspire our students and demonstrate that one person can make a difference. His message was, although injustice exists, the only true way to fight it is through love.

 

Rev. Dr. Douglas with students (from left to right) George McLaughlin, Sikari Rucker, Kaleb Woolf, Caleb Ford, Isaiah Martinez, Wisdom Sims, and Malik Spruill. 

 

Dr. Douglas closed by singing Mahalia Jackson’s, My Living Shall Not Be in Vain. The students rose to their feet and applauded Rev. Douglas. The song was more than just words to serenade the audience. It was one of Dr. King’s favorite songs and it was also a testament about the lives of so many who unselfishly thought of others first. This is African American History. This is American History. This is Our History.

 

If I can help somebody, as I pass along
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song
If I can show somebody, that he’s travelling wrong
Then my living shall not be in vain

My living shall not be in vain
Then my living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody, as I pass along
Then my living shall not be in vain

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught
Then my living shall not be in vain.

                                                -Mahalia Jackson