Having a graduate assistantship at The Graduate School definitely has its advantages. Sure it takes me away from my department quite a bit, but there are benefits and opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Take for instance my first spring here. My boss mentioned in passing that I was invited to a lunch with other graduate assistants that was being held in conjunction with the Mary Frances Early Lecture Series where we would get to meet Ms. Early. What she failed to tell me was that it was an intimate lunch where it would be Ms. Early, a few of her friends, and about 6 other GAs. While I was terribly embarrassed over being late to the event (a friend and I boarded the WRONG campus bus!), the next two hours were spent listening to wonderful stores from Ms. Early and her friends. Stories like Dr. Cheryl Dozier (then a faculty member at UGA) boarding the wrong campus bus at her first faculty position and being late to a meeting. Or the time that Ms. Early and her friend Miss Minnie took a mission trip to Africa and went for a swim in a river. When they came back to their clothes, some insects had infested their pants, but it was only after they got dressed that they discovered the problem. That lunch is now truly a treasured memory that I’ll always hold dear.
One of the other events I’ve been able to attend include the MLK Freedom Breakfast every January. Ms. Early was the keynote speaker last year and I enjoyed every minute of it. This year, however, Mrs. Billye Aaron gave the keynote address. From my position at the back of the room, I hung on every word. It’s very easy to see why she has lead such a long and successful career. It’s also easy to see how she and her late husband, Dr. Samuel Williams were such good friends of Dr. & Mrs. King. Mrs. Billye told us about the first time she met Dr. King, traveling to Montgomery in 1959 so that her husband could speak at Sunday Service with Dr. King. She talked about how dangerous it was and how she wasn’t exactly happy about making the trip because of the danger and threat that surrounded the Kings in Birmingham. Mrs. Billye talked about the conspiracy launched by Dr. King’s father, the then president of Morehouse, and Dr. Williams to convince Dr. King to move back to Atlanta to preach at Ebenezer Baptist Church (with Dr. King’s father) and teach a senior philosophy and religion seminar at Morehouse. It was Dr. Williams’ role to initiate the conversation during this trip. Mrs. Billye noted that while they’ve never taken credit for any part in the story, the Kings did in fact move back to Atlanta in 1960 and all of their plans came to fruition. Then Mrs. Billye went on to talk about the day that Dr. King was shot and how she and Dr. Williams rushed to the King’s house to check on Mrs. King and the children. She talked about helping Mrs. King pack for her trip to Memphis, getting to the airport with Mrs. King and the Mayor, and how they learned of Dr. King’s death while they all stood huddled in a restroom at the Atlanta airport.
Through all of this, what struck me about her stories was that for the first time, I was hearing someone talk such a great man all the while referring to him as just “Martin.” I’ve seen other speakers who were prominent figures of the Civil Rights movement and walked shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But even they talk about him as “Dr. King.” To hear Mrs. Billye constantly refer to him as just “Martin,” made me think of of the great man as just that…a man. Not a god or a hero who has been placed upon a pedestal, but just a man who had a significant dream and shaped the world we live in today.
Looking around me, I am thankful for the liberties that have been hard fought for me, the food that has been grown and prepared by someone else for me, and the water that someone else brings to me. I know that I may never have to fight for a significant injustice. I cherish a circle of friends that includes white, black, yellow, and red skin tones. I value the experiences I learn both from faculty members in the classroom and average citizens on the city bus. I hope that in my own small way, I can keep Dr. King’s dream alive. Because Mrs. Billye is right…the dream shall never die.