It “did something to the material you’re made of”

For this week of honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr, I share words from Rosemarie Freeney Harding from her memoir Remnants.  Rosemarie and her husband Vincent were close companions of the Kings and involved, for a time, in the racially integrated “Mennonite House” in Atlanta.

“Martin and Coretta and Anne Braden and Ella Baker and others like them had a beautiful effect on people who spent time with them.  Living and working in their presence hastened changes in your own thoughts, your reactions, your priorities; even if you weren’t cognizant of the shift.  It’s like Bernice Reagon talks about in her Veterans of Hope Project interview.  She recalls how she and other children in her small southwest Georgia church congregation would ‘sit up in the singing,’ not joining in at first, but surrounded by the energy and power of those songs, the molding fellowship of that worshiping community.  Bernice said the music, the simple but mighty a cappella music of the church, ‘did something to the material you’re made of,’ and transmitted a kind of cognizance, an understanding, a strength that was, fundamentally, a connection to the life force.  ‘We were just connected to the higher things in the universe,’ is how Bernice put it.

What I’m talking about is similar.  Being constantly in the presence of people who lived so fervently in the power of nonviolence, who believed and acted from the understanding that love and forgiveness were essential tools of social justice; being surrounded by people like that fed those commitments in me, in many of us.  And it infused the nation…

In a way, Martin’s assassination marked the nation’s rejection of his ideas, and so much love was lost….Our challenge (now) is to create new ways to keep building on what we’ve gone through, building on all the things we’ve learned…We have to let these young people know that they are not abandoned, that their elders love and trust them.  That we are going to keep working with them to bring more humanity, more integrity, more compassion to our nation.  There was so much coming together during the movement time – different ages, different professions, different races.  That part was beautiful.”

– From Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering, by Rosemarie Freeney Harding, with Rachel Elizabeth Harding, pgs 170-171.