Saving Myself: Author/Activist Rev. Dennis Benson Recalls Marching with MLK to Montgomery
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly… who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
by Rev. Dennis C. Benson
Although I was only one of 25,000 others on the March from Selma to Montgomery, my real personal encounter with Dr. King took place several years earlier--before his national impact. He was the little known speaker at the Monday evening chapel service at McCormick Theological Seminary.
I was a new student, a fresh graduate from the University of Michigan. I was in Chicago to study theology for the next four years. I was an innocent about the great issues of the time. That evening Dr. King jammed an emotional crowbar into my locked political safe.
It is strange how his low keyed presentation to 50 student was so revolutionary to many of us. Three or four of us gathered around him after his sermon. I don't remember asking him any questions. I just wanted to stay in his presence. I suddenly longed for his passion for justice.
Years later, after becoming involved in many aspects of the civil rights movement (Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee,Washington, Pittsburgh, etc.), I lost my job because I organized Black college students to face an unjust situation with peaceful, focused resistance.
As I look back on all my activity, I now realize that I took my path of participation for reasons beyond my understanding. I thought I was helping citizens get their due. Now I realize that I took this risky journey for myself. I needed to be cleansed and attuned to my own sense of right and wrong.
I now also realize that I was at Montgomery, for my own family. Though my mother would never consider being a part of the march for voting rights or even support me in being there,
I unwittingly was there for her (later I learned that she was biracial). Sometimes you set out to do good, but end up up doing well at the same time.
Thank you, Dr. King for saving me from apathy. May you rest in peace, while your legacy continues to inspire others to ‘woke’ the best of themselves for action.
©️ 1/18/13 by Dennis C. Benson. Reprinted with Permission.