As leaders of their flocks they became role models, then passed the torch of civil rights to a new generation of pastors, some of whom are still active today in Marietta.
The Rev. LoJean Ross, former pastor of Fountain Temple in Atlanta and now living in Marietta, said she met King several times during the civil rights movement, either after attending services at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached, or before pre-march briefings.
“He told us things we needed to know when we went out marching and protesting, about how we needed to act,” she said. “We were to be nonviolent, no matter what. There was no violence whatsoever.”
Ross, 79, described the marches as short.
“Most of the marches I was in were from one of the colleges like Morris Brown to downtown Atlanta,” she said. “We’d have prayer and a song and split up there. Some would go back to work. Some would go to sit-ins. I mostly marched. I didn’t do too much sitting in.”
Sit-ins, a form of passive protest popular in the 1960s, came to her workplace, the front lines of a very public symbol of desegregation — the Woolworth’s lunch counter.
“When black people would sit at the lunch counter protesting, I had to go to the kitchen where I couldn’t wait on them,” she said. “That lasted until eventually there was the right to sit wherever you wanted.”
Leaving Woolworth’s after 12 years when it closed in the 1970s, and making her mark as the first African-American to be a cashier, Ross said she was ready for the next chapter in the movement.
“I was there until it was OK to eat in the front and not go to the back windows to get food. Integration was about over then. It was smooth sailing,” she said.
Ross said there is still progress to be made.
“We’ve come a long way but we’ve still got a long way to go,” she said. “We got stopped. Dr. King brought us a long way along with other people who helped him out. Now we need another leader to keep us going on.”
The election and re-election of President Barack Obama has had a positive influence on that momentum, Ross said, but more work is needed.
“We can’t say we’ve finished. We need to keep climbing,” she said.
Areas ripe for improvement are employment and salaries, Ross said.
“There could be seven jobs open, and we could go to the job fair and other races get hired for six and we get one,” she said.
Marching had an effect
The Rev. Dr. Randolph Scott, associate minister at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Marietta and former superintendent of the King Center in Atlanta, said he didn’t work with King, but he did march.
“It was a very good experience for me to be with other individuals in the movement who were willing to make a change in this country,” Scott said. “It was great for me as an African-American to see that things were moving. At first they were moving slowly, but as we got people involved, it began to move very fast.”
His role in marches, like that of King, included advance work, drawing on his degree in American and European history from Norfolk (Va.) State University, his activism while on campus and his tenure as a high-school history teacher.
“I was mostly involved with getting our young African-Americans ready for the march, letting them know the history and background of African-Americans during the time of slavery and up through the movement,” said Scott, 82. “I would tell them about the struggle of the African-Americans, how they came up and what they were denied during the period when I was coming up.”
He said he sees few hurdles to overcome.
“The whole movement made a tremendous change,” Scott said. “I’m happy with what is going on. We still have some more moves to make but I’m satisfied with the way we’re going.”