The daughter of a man whose life intersected with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. opened Grand Valley's commemoration week events by saying the two men "planted the seeds we are still watering and nurturing today."
Cheryl Brown Henderson gave a virtual presentation January 17. The Zoom webinar was recorded in WGVU studios in the Eberhard Center. Henderson is one of the daughters of the Rev. Oliver Brown, who was the lead plaintiff in the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected racial segregation in American schools.
Henderson said her family was approached by the NAACP in 1950 to join the court case. "When called upon, my parents stood up and became activists," she said. "Being a U.S. citizen is not a spectator sport, you need to take action."
There were 12 other families involved in the Brown case, including Vernon Johns' family, Henderson said. Johns was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, until 1954, when King was named pastor.
"Dr. King brought his activist theology to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, with the thinking, why save these souls if they are only going to hate their fellow man?" Henderson said. "The church was really the first social service agency for African Americans. Dr. King recognized the churches were needed to make a difference."