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Pastor evokes MLK’s legacy

Virtual event recounts racial struggles in North and South

YOUNGSTOWN — When he was 17 and growing up in his native Chicago, the Rev. Marvin A. McMickle had a diverse set of summer activities that included graduating from high school, working in a print shop and meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I read in the paper that he was going to be at Liberty Baptist Church the next day. I first saw him when he kicked off his summer campaign about open housing,” McMickle, 73, pastor of Cleveland-based Antioch Baptist Church, remembered.

King spent the summer of 1966 in Chicago after civil rights groups in that city had asked him to join a nonviolent campaign to fight de facto segregation in education, housing and employment, as well as to focus largely on fair housing practices.

McMickle shared those memories, discussed the multi-faceted aspects of working for civil rights and outlined blueprints for social action in a sermon he delivered during Sunday afternoon’s Community Worship Service.

Hosting the 90-minute virtual and livestreamed gathering was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee of the Mahoning Valley in partnership with the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches.

Many people thought segregation was mainly a southern problem, yet King discovered that per capita, Chicago was one of the nation’s four most segregated cities. The others were Cleveland, Detroit and Gary, Ind., all of which King campaigned in, McMickle noted.

The civil rights leader’s overriding goal in those heavily industrial cities was to change discriminatory laws that included restrictive covenants, which are agreements in contracts written into deeds that forbid white homeowners from selling to blacks or Jews, for example, and redlining, a discriminatory practice in which financial, housing and other services are denied to those who live in mostly minority neighborhoods deemed as “hazardous” to investments.

“Martin Luther King never saw hatred like what he saw in Chicago,” said McMickle who added, “I saw my first Nazi flag and first KKK flag in Chicago.”

McMickle, who also earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1973 from Union Baptist Seminary in New York City and finished an additional two years of graduate study at Columbia University, drew a sharp distinction between freedom and privilege.

Civil rights “is the expansion to include all people who feel their presence is unwelcome and their humanity is undervalued,” he explained.

Along those lines, part of true freedom entails various groups or individuals fighting nonviolently against oppression and for desired changes without harboring prejudice or trying to oppress another group. In part, privilege, on the other hand, means one group looking out for its interests, yet feeling it’s OK to discriminate against, oppress or devalue another, he pointed out.

McMickle’s civil rights activities included advocating for more women in the ministry, pushing for greater representation for members of the Asian, Native American, Islamic and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities and participating in demonstrations in Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War. He’s also written more than a dozen books on theology, battling prostate cancer, maintaining a healthful marriage and other topics.

In addition, McMickle was jailed briefly for having participated in a demonstration on behalf of Operation Breadbasket, a program the Southern Christian Leadership Conference launched in 1962 in Atlanta to improve economic conditions for black communities across the U.S. McMickle’s cellmate was the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s closest friends and confidantes, he recalled.

During his sermon, one of the longtime minister’s Bible readings was from I Samuel 17:4-12, which talks about the formidable Goliath of the Philistine army challenging someone from Saul’s army to fight him. Everyone was too frightened to face the 9-foot, bronze armor-wearing soldier, however, until David, a young shepherd, volunteered, despite others’ warnings. The passage also tells of how David killed Goliath with Goliath’s own sword.

McMickle used the parable as a metaphor to dramatize that it’s more important for implementing social change to first show up for a noble challenge than to focus solely on prevailing.

“Our courage is not defined by if we win, but if we went into the struggle in the first place,” he said.

Had King failed to exercise such courage, pivotal events such as the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom and the Chicago Campaign likely would not have occurred, McMickle told his audience.

He added that women who were movers and shakers in the civil rights movement such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and Septima Clark should be honored for their sacrifices and contributions — along with others who have gotten little credit, including the many young people who received training in nonviolence techniques and took part in the May 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Ala., to integrate that city.

Nathan Hargrove and Camille Townsend, seniors at Boardman and Chaney high schools, respectively, read portions of King’s “Give Us the Ballot” speech, which he delivered May 17, 1957, three years to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

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