There are moments in our lives that somehow become encapsulated among a myriad of lifetime memories. I am remembering one such moment as we approach Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this week.
Many years ago, the Richmond County school board made a decision not to commemorate MLK’s birthday by keeping the public schools open on that day.
It had been an unusual January. We had had several school-day closings already because of snow and ice on the roads in the county and the school board was concerned about the possibility of an extended school year because of the lost days. I do not think the school board anticipated the fallout from that decision.
When I attended Rockingham First Baptist Church the Sunday after that decision, I was surprised when Charles Deane, a member of First Baptist and a member of the school board at that time, asked to come forward to address the congregation during the service.
Once he came to the front of the church, he calmly stated that his intention to address his fellow church members was to make it perfectly clear that the board’s decision to keep the schools open on MLK’s birthday — as far as he was personally concerned — had nothing to do with his high regard for Dr. King.
He briefly re-capped Dr. King’s contributions to his race as well as to our country and went on to state he was more than deserving of a day to honor his work and life. There were tears in Charles Deane’s eyes as he spoke so eloquently of King. He did not note how he had voted as a member of the board, but that was hardly necessary in the sheer grace of the moment.
I suppose many people who have always been Baptists would not think about this moment as being particularly unusual but I was a fairly new member at that time. I became a Baptist a few years after marrying my husband who was raised as a Baptist. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church where there was little or no exchange between the minister and congregation during church service. My late husband grew up attending a small Baptist church in the mountains of North Carolina in Ashe County. He was used to frequent interactions between the members of the church and the minister during church services — much more in that small church than in First Baptist, he said.
I was proud of Charles Deane that Sunday so many years ago. Sometimes we need to let people know exactly where we stand.
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.