As we head into semester exams and a national celebration of the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we thought you might want to hear this powerful witness from former Jesuit High School President Mr. John Gladstone, who was a high schooler at St. Ignatius in Cleveland as Dr. King courageously led the non-violent resistance to racism as President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Just before John graduated from Xavier University in 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. John offered this reflection (below) to our community toward the end of Mass on Friday, January 12, 2018.
May peace be with all of us as we seek the promised land together.
Paul J. Hogan
John Gladstone's Reflection
Martin Luther King, Jr. Mass
January 12, 2018
Good morning, and I thank you for this opportunity to share with you my thoughts related to today's readings, our remembrances of why we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., and my reflections on race in my lifetime.
I was born the second oldest of seven children in a very traditional Catholic family in Chicago. I moved to Cleveland with my family in 1953 when I was six. We lived in a very white community, we rarely saw African-Americans on the streets, even on TV. We did see increasing numbers of African-Americans on Cleveland sports teams, including Larry Doby, the first African-American baseball player in the American League in 1947, and 42-year-old rookie pitcher Satchel Paige (who had never been able to play in the majors in his prime because he was black.) Cleveland had the first African-American manager in the majors, Frank Robinson, but that didn't happen until 1974. The Cleveland Browns, a highly prized team back in my youth, had many star African American players, even in the league's early years, most notably Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, and Leroy Kelly. Still my youth included almost no African-Americans.
The first time I ever really thought about or experienced even a hint of racism was when my mother took me shopping in a Chicago department store. I was five years old. I wanted to get a drink of water and found two fountains, one marked "colored" and the other "white." When my mother explained what this meant, I was stunned and really couldn't understand.
My Catholic grade school had very few, if any, black students, and I can remember only a couple in my four years at my Jesuit high school in Cleveland. Still my parents often talked to my siblings and me about race relations, especially in 1960, when I entered high school and racial tensions were rising in our country.
I want you to reflect now on what you heard in today's readings.
- That God shows no partiality or bias
- That Martin Luther King, Jr.—like Jesus—always preached about the need for peace and hope and love in the face of threats and violence
- That God loves every one of us for who we are
- That Jesus could have saved himself from suffering the day he died a terrible death on the cross, but instead chose to forgive his torturers;
- That Martin Luther King, Jr. did this too so many times in his life, including the night his home was bombed in 1956
I'm sure many of you know the courage and heroic journey of Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a white person on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.
August, 1955-Emmett Till
Emmett (from Chicago) convinced his mother, when he was just 14, to let him visit his aunt in Money, Mississippi in the summer of 1955. He supposedly whistled at a white woman in a store there. Three nights later, two white men took him from his bed, savagely beat him, shot and killed him, and dumped his body in the Tallahatchie River. His mother insisted on an open casket so that the world could see his grossly disfigured body. An all-white jury found those charged innocent of the murder.
Both black and white volunteers defied Jim Crow laws and called for change in the south and traveled to Mississippi and Alabama to fight segregation in transit systems. At some cities in Alabama, white supremacists torched buses and attacked bus depots injuring many black and white protesters. Why do people hate each other because of the color of one's skin? Think of today's first reading, which reports that a Jewish man could not associate with or even visit a Gentile.
June 12, 1963
Medgar Evers, director of operations for the NAACP in Mississippi and leader of a campaign there for integration, was killed by a sniper as he sat in his car in his driveway.
September 15, 1963
Four young African-American girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were killed in Birmingham, Alabama by a bomb in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
June 21, 1964
Three young civil rights workers, two white and one black (Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Earl Chaney) were arrested by a deputy sheriff in Philadelphia, Mississippi who then handed them over to a group of Klansmen who in turn shot and killed all three and buried their bodies in an earthen dam.
William Lewis Moore, a white postman from Baltimore was shot and killed trying to deliver to the white governor of Mississippi a letter urging for the end of racial intolerance.
There are dozens of other victims too.
All of these senseless acts of hatred and violence happened while I was in my youth, in high school, and before I finished college. I was not much older than most of you students in this gym.
A very special activist and role model in my life was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who undoubtedly for me and many others was the most remarkable civil rights leader in my/our lifetime. In the face of violence, murders, rapes, fire bombings, etc., he was a beacon of hope and non-violent protests. He was arrested dozens of times and always preached non-violence. He suffered hundreds of death threats, yet never wavered from his belief in the worth and dignity of every person.
On April 4, 1968—just two months before my graduation from college—Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed by a white sniper in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the second-floor motel balcony preparing to lead a peaceful demonstration that evening.
My friends and I were stunned and cried much of that night and the next day. Our country was on the verge of major racial unrest. Many cities, including Cincinnati, where I was in college, imposed 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfews to try to prevent riots and violence. In fact, later that night and the next day, riots did occur in well over a thousand cities and towns across the country. Almost 40 people died, and hundreds were injured.
Indianapolis, Indiana was a major exception due to the words and civil rights record of Bobby Kennedy who was then running for President just 4 ½ years after his brother, Jack, was assassinated in Dallas. Bobby had great street cred with the African-American community because he stood up to the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and the bigots in Mississippi and Georgia. He was the prime mover in getting James Meredith enrolled as the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi in 1962 because he had the strength to call out the National Guard there in direct defiance of the governor and the majority of people in that state.
On the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was flying into Indianapolis to give a speech in the black community—just when the news of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death reached him. Bobby insisted on going into the black community against the warnings of the police chief, who said it was too dangerous and that his men could not protect him. Bobby went anyway and gave by all accounts the most compelling speech of his career. He talked about what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have said that night and what he would have wanted. He talked about peace and prayer and understanding of a terrible wrong. There were no riots in Indianapolis that night. Compare this to what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in today's gospel reflection regarding the hatred among his friends following the bombing of his home. Just two months later Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles—on the day of my college graduation.
As I look back over these last 50 years since my college graduation, I often think about how close we have come to making race relations better—and yet how far we still must travel. Just listen and see the rhetoric and politics in Washington, D.C. There are still significant barriers in health care, employment opportunities, salaries, education, the justice system, housing, political office, and so much more—just because one is poor or a person of color. In so many ways my generation failed. Among many, our hatred and biases are too deep. But do you know what? None of us is born with hatred and bias and violence ingrained in us. Those are learned traits.
You and we—students, parents, faculty, staff, alums, grandparents, and board members—have the great chance at this great school to change the chemistry and the playing field. So, let's stop the crude and demeaning bullying, the name calling, the snide remarks, and the indifference. Start this moment to be the difference we seek in this world. Every person—woman, man, and child—in this country and in this world deserves the chance to be free and equal and loved. If this talk and this Mass and the greatness of Martin Luther King, Jr. mean anything to you, then carry their meanings with you and DO SOMETHING.
FOR HOW MANY MORE YEARS MUST WE WAIT UNTIL ALL PEOPLE ARE FREE AND NOT JUDGED BY THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN?
I want to read to you the closing words of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the one he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. 100 years after Abraham Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. 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.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true....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!
And I add: let freedom ring in every classroom, hallway, retreat, Christian Service placement, activity, athletic contest, Mass, lunchroom, and conversation at Jesuit High School, where we too are on the cusp of greatness.
Together we can do this and change our world. We must.