Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
(part of an ongoing series about activities during my sabbatical)
This is a shorter entry from a Sunday in the midst of our Civil Rights tour.
As our family does when on trips, we looked for a local church to worship with on Sunday morning. Being in Montgomery, the choices quickly narrowed down to one - Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (yes, that’s a mouthful.) Dexter Avenue is a historic Black Church, dating back to 1877 and was served by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr from 1954-1960. That time period is significant because the Montgomery bus boycott occurred in 1955 and King did much of the organizing for the boycott from the basement of the church.
This served to us as another reminder of the critical role which the Black Church played in the Civil Rights Movement, as source of hope and faith as well as often a place to organize. The church was (and still is), for African-Americans, a place of refuge, a place where they could go and not be treated as less than, as outcasts, but instead to worship together, to mourn together and to celebrate together. As Henry Louis Gate says in his book on the history of the Black Church,
“The Black Church was the cultural cauldron that Black people created to combat a system designed to crush their spirit. Collectively and with enormous effort, they refused to allow that to happen. And the culture they created was sublime, awesome, majestic, lofty, glorious, and at all points subversive of the larger culture of enslavement that sought to destroy their humanity. The miracle of African American survival can be traced directly to the miraculous ways that our ancestors reinvented the religion that their “masters” thought would keep them subservient, Rather, that religion enabled them and their descendants to learn, to grow, to develop, to interpret and reinvent the world in which they were trapped; it enabled them to bide their time — ultimately, time for them to fight for their freedom, and for us to continue the fight for ours.”
A pastor acquaintance of mine had told me that when she had visited, they discovered she was a pastor and asked her to share a prayer that morning. I was able to go incognito that morning due to activities going on in the church and avoided that; though it would have been an honor to have that opportunity, I was thankful not to.
We had a wonderful time of worship with the congregation that morning, blessed by their welcome, the music, the message, and the heritage of the people and the place.
Carl Franzon, Pastor