INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — For just a few moments, let’s take a walk in history through the eyes of an Indianapolis reverend who was up-front with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was the late 1960s, the Civil Rights Act had just been passed, but segregation and racism were still rampant.
The Reverend Mel Jackson had just met Dr. King and what happened next changed Jackson’s life.
It was Chicago, 1964. A young Mel Jackson was training with American community organizer Saul Alinsky, widely regarded as the founder of organizing people for change.
One night, Jackson was at a small group meeting in Chicago with just 7 people and a special invited guest. That guest was King.
Eighty-eight-year-old Jackson’s first words to Dr. King were memorable.
“I told him I thought he was a wimp,” Jackson said. “I thought he should be ashamed of himself, leading people to get beat upside the head, and all that sort of thing. King was such a patient man, he wasn’t ruffled.”
Jackson, 35 at the time, had recently gotten out of the military.
“When I got out, I was an angry man,” Jackson said. “I went into the service in a tightly regulated, segregated society and came out with that same condition.”
Soon after, Jackson left his home in Dayton, Ohio, and traveled the Midwest organizing his own civil rights demonstrations at factories and business offices.
“Black people were not in charge of anything,” Jackson said. “We were the lowest level with the least pay and were simply disrespected.”
Jackson said King told him about something different, fundamentally changing how the nation’s system operates.
“It helped me to understand, to read more, to think more, to plan with more people,” Jackson said earnestly. “To really get a grip on the whole idea of institutional change.”
Fast forward to 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Jackson marched with King, demanding racial equality. That’s when King told Jackson something that completely changed his philosophy.
“He said if a man doesn’t have anything to die for, he really is not fit to live. Boy, that gripped me,” Jackson said. “He said I’m willing to die for people I love. He said Christ died for all of us. The guy had me with tears in my eye.”
King told him something else profound.
“‘I know that I’m going to die. I don’t know when,” he said. “But if dying is to help people to live, tomorrow won’t be too soon,” Jackson said earnestly.
That tragedy came true April 4, 1968, the day Dr. King was assassinated at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel. Jackson’s buddy broke the news to him in Chicago.
“He said ‘Martin Luther King is dead,” Jackson said. “All hell broke loose that night on the west side of Chicago.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson called King “the apostle of nonviolence.”
“I’m sure that the meeting with King, and his attitude toward humanity with disregard to what a person looks like, or what their conditions are, that love really has no barriers,” Jackson said.
50 years later, Jackson says that King’s words still resonate hope.
Jackson said through his time with King, he learned that love is about being willing to give all you are for the betterment of your fellow man.