In recognition of Martin Luther King Day, we invited Dr. Albert Paul Brinson to provide a reflection for our website. Brinson served as associate director of World Mission Support and as interim associate general secretary for American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) before retiring in 2004. A leader in civil rights and a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. Rep. John Lewis and others, Brinson was one of the original organizers of the Atlanta Student Movement that beginning in March, 1960, involved sit-ins and acts of civil disobedience which eventually led to the end of segregation in the South. He was licensed to Christian ministry by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta August 4, 1963, and ordained at Ebenezer by Co-Pastors, Drs. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sr. on January 17, 1965. Brinson worked as their assistant from 1963 to 1967. In 1994, he worked with The South African Baptist Convention and Non-Governmental Organization in preparation for the First Free and Open Elections resulting in the election of President Nelson Mandela. The accompanying video reflections included below by Producer Hillary Pierce, appear on a website Pierce developed in Brinson’s honor as part of a graduate school project at Wake Forest University.
Since the mid-1950s and into the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and so far into the 2000s the crusade: the movement for freedom, dignity, equal respect under the law, equal opportunity for social advancement under the law, etc., has continued.
Throughout this journey to freedom we moved ahead, marching and protesting and singing “We Shall Overcome.”
This moving and affirmative hymn has become the anthem of the modern day civil human rights movement here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. It is January 2017 and the struggle for freedom, dignity and respect accorded all humanity continues.
Born in Atlanta, Ga., in the southern corner of the U.S. in 1938 in a time of blatant segregation and overt racism; as a “negro” boy, I knew what it was to be different; to live life as a “colored boy” sitting at the back of the bus or streetcar; and to use bathrooms marked colored or white. I knew what it was like to use water fountains with the same markings, and to have all of life “marked” by open segregation and discrimination with all of its implications.
In the midst of this world of broken opportunities and hopes all was not lost. Nor were all hopes dashed against the walls of prejudice. The Eternal Flame of Hope, a continuing spark of light, was burning. This light came from the Church – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the message of the “black church,” proclaiming the message of the God of the Bible – God had not forgotten us!
I learned to continually look up and love all of God’s children, even those who showed no love; to be obedient and go to school and to be willing to work and to be among honest people who would always look up in hope, believing all would be changed someday. God had not forgotten us!
In the spring of 1960, when I was a student at Morehouse College, the “sit-ins” against racial discrimination in public restaurants in the south began. I became one of the organizing students of the “Appeal for Human Rights Committee.” The Committee published a document in Atlanta newspapers and followed up by “sitting-in” at the all-white restaurants in downtown Atlanta, Ga., inspired by the “non-violence” urged by my life-long friend and brother, Martin Luther King, Jr. (“M.L.” to me).
We began to sing, “We Shall Overcome.” We sang this lilting theme of hope and inspiration after many funerals, protests and crusades.
And then came the moment: We wept and sang our hymn, “We Shall Overcome” as we watched in January of 2009 as Barack Obama took the oath to become the 44th President of the United States of America.
Did we dare to believe that “We Had Overcome?” All around the world we dared to hope and believe that our country was finally on the way to becoming a true democracy: A Nation for All People.
And now as eight years of President Obama come to a close we look out onto our country and see the blatant crusade to fight against and erase any accomplished gains through overwhelming odds. Prejudice once more raises her ugly head as some choose to spew their racism and discriminatory message out onto our country. And we raise our broken hearts and spirits in preparation for the 45th President and all that this process inspires.
We cannot let go. We must not let go. We must continue to keep the faith and the hope that “We Shall Overcome.”
The song continues!
Videos and photos courtesy of Producer/Director Hillary Pierce, creator of the “Light of Right website in honor of Dr. Albert Brinson.”