Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The third Monday of every January. Not many people get a holiday on the calendar. A group of Presidents got one. Jesus got a couple of them (Christmas and Easter), the Independence of our Country has a holiday. Mothers and Fathers each have one.
The reason we have MLK Day, is recognition of the impact of a courageous leader who left a legacy, trying to bring equal rights to all. He helped the United States of America restore many rights to black Americans, but the civil unrest since last January, loudly proclaims we have a way to go.
This story below, written by my wife, came out of a discussion on the importance of this special holiday. I proudly introduce my guest blogger, Linda.
(Circa 1959-1960 Youngstown, Ohio)
I heard the cries in the dark distance of our back yard. “Mr. Augsburger…. Mr. Augsburger!” I had gone outside to retrieve something from our family car and heard the cry for help. I promptly went back into the house and told my Dad, (Mr. Augsburger,) that someone was outside crying for help.
A few minutes later, my father walked into our kitchen through the back door, assisting a distraught, muddy, fur stole wearing, black woman carrying a suitcase. The story soon unfolded. The woman had been abused by her husband, and taking all the cash she could, she was leaving him in the dark of night. Walking through the back yard of our home and the neighbors, she slipped in the mud and needed help getting out.
Looking back as an adult, I am fascinated that in the middle of the Civil Rights Era, and the racial tension in our country, this black woman was calling out to the white “Reverend Augsburger” for help. What made her think this white family might help her out in her time of need?
This is the beginning of the story…
My parents moved to Youngstown, Ohio in 1953 with two little girls, ready to plant a church in the inner city. Beginning in a store-front in the dusty, dirty steel mill section of town, the church was born. By 1959 a small church building had been erected a block from our house. I was born in 1954 with a brother arriving in 1956 and another sister in 1962. Our family was one of just a few white families in our neighborhood. This was my home. I did not see a difference in any of the children I played with. There was no color…just kids having fun. I did not think about the fact that I was a “minority.” Our family did not see “color.” The church my father pastored did not see “color.” Sure, I knew we looked different, but what we saw were people created in the image of God. There was no “us” and “them.” I was “them.” We did life together as kids, unaware of the turmoil that was occurring daily in our country, in the still segregated South and the “unsegregated” North.
Now as a 5–6-year-old, on that dark night, I was witnessing an event that is forever burned into my memory. Our parents tried to send us children upstairs and off to bed. But I am so glad we peeked around the stair wall. There by the kitchen table, my mother Carolyn got on her knees with a pan of warm water and washed the cakey mud off the feet and legs of our night stranger. The memories blur, but I can still see tears streaming down the face of the unnamed woman. Why was she crying? I didn’t know then, but I do now!!
I see the police standing in our kitchen, not as a threat, but to assist the woman to safety. I am not sure how much time passed, but my next memory is of our unnamed stranger walking into our living room to leave by the front door to a waiting cab. There we had an old upright piano, with a swivel stool that adjusted to any height so the musician could easily bring music from the ebony and ivories. She stopped and said, “wait a minute.” Sitting down on the swivel stool, I can still see and hear her playing the piano and singing…
Bless this house O Lord we pray. Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout. Keeping want and trouble out.
Bless the roof and chimneys tall. Let thy peace lie overall.
Bless this door that it may prove ever open to joy and love.
Bless these windows shining bright letting in God’s Heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there, with smoke ascending Like a prayer.
Bless the people here within. Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be fit O Lord To dwell with Thee.
Bless us all that one day we may dwell O Lord with Thee.
We never saw the unnamed woman again. And now as an adult reflecting on this memory, I am unraveled with tears. I now understand why she felt our home was a safe place. I understand her tears as my mother washed her feet. I understand the gratitude that brought forth such a beautiful song written by the great Mahalia Jackson. I am filled with gratitude for people like Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Fred and Carolyn Augsburger, who led the way in equal rights and value for all human beings.
I am currently reading two books by Pulitzer Prize Winner, Isabel Wilkerson. “The Warmth Of Other Suns,” and “Caste…The Origins of Our Discontents.” I am undone with emotion. The Civil Rights Movement was needed. The unfair, unequal decisions, attitudes and actions of thousands in the history of our country over the past 400 years in this “land of the free,” wrecks me. Ebony and ivory make such beautiful music when blended together. We have much to be grateful for in America, but we have missed some of the best “music” in our country that comes from the blending of black and white. And not just black and white…red, brown, yellow and all the colors that skin comes in. Beautiful music waiting to be played!
Forgive us…and Bless this house…O Lord we pray.
(By Linda Augsburger Gingerich, January 18, 2021)
Pictures below from Linda’s early Childhood.