Friday, January 28, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 2

Continuing a sermon by Rev. Ronald W. Leichty at First EUB in North Manchester, Indiana (May 14, 1967).

Persons told me that this man [Dr. King] had no right to speak in our community. Students wrote into the newspaper indicating their conviction that this man was a communist. Shopkeepers were apprehensive. At least one was reported that he would lock his shop and leave town for the day because he was frightened. At least one other told me that they were ready to lock the shop on a moments notice as soon as any trouble that they expected erupted.

On the campus I found four general attitudes. One was to give Dr. King a fair hearing. One was an attitude by which the student would leave campus and not be a part, not be around. One group was planning to get up and leave in a mass protest as soon as the man came onto the stage. Another was going to stand and give him a rising ovation before he said a word. An African student at the college was telephoned with threats so often that he left town because he could not endure it.

At least one other clergyman besides myself received a telephone call before 7:00 that morning asking us to read books on how communism came to this country; with the obvious implication that we were ignorant on the subject, and that our actions indicated a sympathy either knowledgeable or without knowledge.

Persons in our community whipped up fervor, making the vocal minority, which I am certain was a minority; but making this vocal minority seem bigger than it was. One person spoke in a group where I was in attendance said something like this: “Wherever this man goes, he causes trouble. If one stone is thrown, the whole town will be torn apart!”

I don’t know what you heard, but these are some of the things that I heard. And my friends, I was shocked. For this week I have been weak.

Dr. King did not come. And neither did the large group of Negroes from surrounding cities that had been promised for demonstration. And neither did the large group of rabble rousers arrive that had been anticipated. Indeed a demonstration on campus was so small that WANE-TV in reporting this incident said that they tried to make their numbers appear larger by each carrying two signs instead of one. The crowd in the auditorium was quiet and orderly.

The apprehensions proved unnecessary. But of this I am convinced, the fact of Dr. King’s appearance at this moment was unimportant and remains unimportant. What was and is of  greatest importance as I see it is evidence of feeling that has come into the open. A feeling and emotion that is still with us; and feelings that will remain as they are unless something positive is done about them.

to be continued

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