Left Justified: Rockford’s civil rights movement

Left Justified: Rockford’s civil rights movement

By Stanley Campbell

Rockford is not known for leading any crusades for civil rights. Nay, I would say that Rockford is still a little hesitant toward people’s equality among its varied residents. But we’ve moved beyond the segregated “whites only” signs, the restricted memberships to the exclusive clubs, and even allowed a little diversity to appear on our governing bodies. Don’t be gay, though.

Rockford Urban Ministries, whom I work for, was in the forefront of civil rights back in the ’60s. In fact, the whole reason for establishing this organization was to bring an African-American preacher who would raise the roofs of the more complacent congregations and to strive for civil rights in this very conservative community.

Rev. Edsel Ammons, the first Urban Ministries’ director (he went on to become bishop of Detroit), worked on re-gerrymandering the city wards to get an African-American elected to the city council.

The second RUM director, Rev. Charles Jordan, had trouble purchasing a house in an all-white neighborhood. Thank goodness, there were neighbors like my mother, who talked people out of burning crosses and instead brought over housewarming gifts that didn’t include fire. Rev. Jordan led the first major integrated march shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, when I searched the local history rooms, the only notice I found about Rockford Urban Ministries was this march through the city, which drew together many mourners of many colors. (Rev. Jordan is now United Methodist Bishop of Iowa.)

Revs. Abner Hammond and Maynard Beal worked to open up housing and stop red-lining (where the banks refused to loan money in certain neighborhoods: they drew a red line around it). They also encouraged such progressive organizations as United Way and some of the major banks to hire people of color so as to better reflect their patrons.

We will hear more stories about Rockford residents who actually went to Selma, confronted and then marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for a King holiday in the county, when Rockford Urban Ministries hosts its Black History Month program this Thursday, Feb. 27, beginning at 7 p.m. at Christ United Methodist Church, 4509 Highcrest (the southeast corner of Alpine and Highcrest). You, of course, are invited to attend. Bring your stories and any civil rights memorabilia for a display.

I hope the Rev. Perry Bennett from Macedonia Baptist Church attends. He has a wonderful story about a sit-in at a Chicago Walgreens counter. Some white guy came up and put his cigarette out on Rev. Bennett’s hand. Two years later, they were marching together in Cicero, Ill., with Dr. Martin Luther King.

Henrietta Dotson Williams will also join us and describe how the county board approved a holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. She also has some early stories to tell. And, of course, we will have two United Methodist pastors: Rev. Tom Hardwick of Aldersgate UMC who was in Selma, Ala., during the major march, and the Rev. John Alan Boryk of Durand UMC, who went to a demonstration to confront the Rev. Dr. King and instead came away converted.

I’m asking people to bring items from the period for a little display, and I hope people will continue to work for the freedom and equality of their brothers and sisters here in Rockford.

Hey, kids! Another vegan benefit!

No Bones to Pick, a nonprofit vegan committee with dreams of starting a restaurant, will host a buffet benefit Monday, March 3 from 6 to 7:15 p.m. at Nhú Y, a French-Vietnamese restaurant at 324 7th Street.

This will be a joint benefit with Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee and Rockford Urban Ministries.

The meal will be vegan, which means without any animal products, including milk, cheese or eggs. The buffet will include four vegan selections, the Nhú Y famous tofu spring rolls and complimentary tea.

You are invited to stay after 7:30 and hear noted Vietnam veteran peace activist Barry Romo speak about, “A Veteran’s Concern for Peace.”

Reservations are $15 and will be taken by Rockford Urban Ministries, phone (815) 964-7111.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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