Monday, January 16, 2012

How WashU was desegregated: Thank you Dr. King.

Huston Smith is a storyteller, and this story is his. I was simply lucky enough to be there when he told it-- once to our Berkeley congregation, and once in a special retelling for my daughters.


in 1964
Huston was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis when it was still segregated. He found a phone number for Martin Luther King, Jr., dialed it and asked him to come to the university to support its desegregation.

Dr. King agreed to come, but said that he did not fly. Huston replied that it was all right, and that he would meet him at the train station. So he came.

Huston laughed that he did not trust this great man to his own driving, so he got a taxi and was able to spend the time in the cab with him talking. (Huston didn't mention what they talked about.) Then Dr. King gave an impassioned speech, one Huston said that he "thought of as a rehearsal for his 'I've been to the mountaintop' speech." Indeed, not long after this, King went on to the March on Washington.

The next day, the university was desegregated.


No doubt it was thanks to the persistent work of many people over a long time, but the catalyst was surely the words and presence of Dr. King. I thanked Huston for standing up to the status quo, for putting his work and himself on the line for justice, and for standing with Dr. King at a time when it was dangerous to do so. May we all continue standing together for justice.

For some unique photographs telling some of the much lesser-known stories of the civil rights movement, check out the New York Times' Lens blogpost, "Honoring the Struggles and Sacrifices," by David Gonzales. Don't miss the story of Koinonia Farms in photo #4, which you can read if you click the tiny link just below the image.