By CAROLE DAVIS
On Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to remember our past, present and future in Mississippi's race relations. We have a past, a present, and a future for making better race reconciliation in this nation, state and world.
I was at Trinity Presbyterian Church on a rainy Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. I watched as the Christmas candles were being lit as we were all getting ready for the upcoming Christmas season. My thoughts drifted to our MLK day coming up in a few weeks. Our Affirmation Of Faith was repeated as our Statement of Faith in the back of our hymnal. As we read it together, I thought of the meanings of each word. “God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God's image, male and female, of every race and people to live as one community.”
I suddenly thought of my own personal past in the 1950-60s when years ago, my daddy was serving as a Deacon in another Presbyterian church was asked to stand at one of the side doors, and if a black person came up the long tall steps he was to turn him away. Daddy, said, “No, I do not have that right, and I take a stand against this request.” I was so proud of my parents, and how they both felt about making race relations better here in Mississippi. Years later when I had my own family with three children of my own, I decided to join a Chamber of Commerce race relations team.
We held our first meeting at old Chamber of Commerce building on University Drive. I looked around the room and saw my friends, Dr. Douglas Conner, MD, William (Brother) Rogers, John and Jeanne Marszalek, Father Michael O'Brien, Rev. G.W. Jones and other Starkville citizens. I told them that night that I would be painting a large mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I would be joining the MLK March for that year down Main Street of my native home town. The large, 6 foot mural on wood was created, and I got permission to put it on two huge poles and sunk it into the Oktibbeha County Court yard.
I marched that cold, winter afternoon beside Rev. G.W. Jones. I wondered if I could really march? I had never marched in my life for a cause that I believed in so strongly. When I arrived at the beginning destination, I turned and asked John Marszalek, “How do you do this MLK March?” John in his New York accent, looking straight into my eyes and said in his Yankee voice, “Carole, just put one foot in front of the other and march forward.” About 100 people — both black and white — showed up on that cold January day to break bread (which was pancakes, sausage, bacon eggs, hot coffee and orange juice).
In my life time as a native Starkville citizen for eight generations, it was the very first time in my life that we as a community — both black and white — sat down. and we enjoyed eating a hot delicious breakfast meal together as a community of all citizens both black and white.
For the next seven years, I would paint a painting of someone or group of people who had made a difference in race reconciliation in our city. I would tell the story of their lives and their contributions they had made for better race reconciliation. Our daughter, Elizabeth, would join me as we marched together each January. Several years passed, and I invited my own granddaughter, Mallory Ann Williams, who was only three years old to join her Granny in the MLK march. I realized there were four generations of our family starting who took a stand, taking a tiny step by marching for our community to make life and race reconciliation better in our city.
Our past is gone forever, our present is how we all accept our right and good decisions today and our future is bright for better race reconciliation. We have come a long way from President Dean W. Colvard having to slip out the 1963 basketball team to go and play a game with African American players in an invitation NCAA tournament with Loyola University of Chicago. In a statement by Mark Keenum, the MSU President said, "I think a lot of Mississippians, not just MSU fans, were proud of that day, because it reflected the true beliefs of the vast majority of our state's citizens. That spirit has remained a part of everything we do here, and it remains, for many, a defining moment in Mississippi State University's history.”
This painting is titled “Three Women Who Made a Difference In Race Relations.” It was painted in 1997. Dorothy Issac, Jeanne Marszalek and Dorothy Bishop have made our lives special and given us all unity in our community.
Look at their portraits. They are dressed in red, white and blue, the colors of the American flag. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national American holiday today. Dorothy Issac has that million dollar smile as she carefully plans the MLK Community Candle Light Service, Breakfast and March down Main Street each year. Jeanne Marszalek serves as co-chairwoman for the race relations team, giving countless hours of her time and energy. Dorothy Bishop has served as the President of the local NAACP for many years. Think of the efforts she has put forth as its president.
Look closely at all three of these courageous women. Look closely at their sparkling eyes that will suddenly follow you around the room. Their happy smiles and outlooks on life are so positive. Their shoulders are held high with their heads back and expressions of deep feelings of great determination on their faces. Without a doubt, these three women made a difference in race reconciliation.
Recently, Dorothy Issac sincerely and casually said to me, “Miss Carole, Jeanne Marzalek is just like a real sister to me.” So, are we not all sisters and brothers regardless of our skin color?
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .