A Pastor’s Dream that changed America
A guest post by Kristen Terrette
He was a pastor first.
This sentence has run through my mind for years.
After working on the manuscript since early 2016, my Young Adult novel, See You Monday, released on April 30 with Elk Lake Publishing. That’s five years of writing, editing, and rewriting. It’s also a long time to mull over a certain scene.
Parts of the novel slip back into the early sixties. And one scene takes us to August 28, 1963—the day the March for Jobs and Freedom was held in Washington D.C., and where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
I want to discuss this day and this great man but decided an excerpt from my story will help me explain. In this part of the story, we’ve just read about 10-year-old Sandy (who’s now a grandmother) watching the news coverage of the March and Dr. King with her family. Now, back in “present day,” Grace (Sandy’s 17-year-old granddaughter) can’t believe her grandmother witnessed the speech on live TV.
Excerpt from See You Monday:
~ Grace ~
“Mimi, I can’t believe you watched the speech live.”
“It was fantastic.” Her hand went over her heart.
Grace turned to her mother. “Mom, we talked about it all last week on its anniversary.” She turned back to Mimi. “Apparently, there were like 250,000 people there. The ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was voted the most well-known speech ever. Dr. King even won the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Mom poured herself another cup of coffee. “I had to read and watch it in school too, you know. Back in the nineties.”
“Dr. King spoke with such passion.” Mimi took the plates from the table and walked to the sink. “I’m shocked to find we, as a society, forget a major part of his background.” The plates made a clanking sound as she put them in the sink. “Remember,” she pointed at Grace, “he was a pastor first. We forget his speech was laced with many Bible verses.”
Mimi took a deep breath and gripped the sink’s edge. “I’ve read interviews from people who were there in the crowd, and I’ve watched his speech many times since I was a child. Did you learn he veered from his typed-out, prepared speech about twelve minutes into his, roughly, sixteen-minute talk?”
Grace interjected, “Yeah, and we learned Mahalia Jackson, you know the famous gospel singer, yells to him around the twelve-minute mark, ‘Tell ’em ’bout the dream, Martin! Tell ’em ’bout the dream!’”
Both adults hooted at Grace’s high octave voice. Mom said, “My, how Mahalia could sing.”
Mimi started again. “Yeah. And Clarence Jones, a good friend of Dr. King, is quoted numerous times recalling how he turned to the person next to him and said, ‘These people don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.’ And King’s speech, from that moment on, was completely adlibbed using the ‘I have a dream’ phrase, which he had used in a few other speeches before. Clarence Jones said Dr. King’s ‘whole body language changed.’ He went into preacher-mode.”
She came to the table and sat down. “If you watch it, you’ll see Dr. King doesn’t look down at his typed speech once he utters the words, ‘I have a dream.’ His words even speed up.”
Her full-on storytelling-mode had Mimi’s hands moving, and her elementary school librarian skills showed off in her voice, also echoing the mannerisms of great-grandma Johnnie. “I’m convinced if you were to ask Dr. King what happened then, he’d say the Holy Spirit took over. He recalled Scripture to pour out on, what … now 250,000 people? Did you know the sound speakers at the Lincoln Memorial were damaged right before Dr. King spoke? And Robert Kennedy ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to do whatever it took to fix them?”
Mimi’s voice seemed to heat up. “Dr. King was His.” She pointed to the ceiling. “God used Dr. King to inspire change. Change without violence. Change done with love.” Mimi took a long slow breath. “I’m sorry, girls. I’m a bit fired up.”
Grace released the breath she’d been holding. “It’s okay. I’m fired up, too.” If a rapid heartbeat is an indication. “And, you’re right.”
~ End of excerpt from See You Monday ~
Can you imagine the scene in D.C.? Witnessing the Holy Spirit pour out on 250,000 people in Dr. King’s words?
Having marched for miles in the sweltering heat and singing hymns together in large groups along the way, the captivated audience gathered at the base of the Lincoln Memorial and spread along its Reflecting Pool. They would have heard the soulful voice of gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, minutes before Dr. King took the stage. And, since they were a churched generation, they would’ve recognized the Bible verses uttered in his glorious speech. Frankly, they would’ve known Dr. King was preaching. They would’ve even expected it.
Because the people knew Dr. King was a pastor first.
Generation Z, which accounts for today’s high school and college students, are the most unchurched group ever. Studies show only 4% of this generation holds a biblical worldview, and 13% consider themselves atheists or agnostics. If you were to type into an internet search “Generation Z, unchurched, and/or spiritual,” you’d see numerous articles discussing this topic. They are the largest group in the world needing to be reached with the Good News of Jesus Christ. If you are a parent of a Gen Z’er, then your home is literally a mission field.
As I watch and read about more racial injustice and disunity, I can’t help but wonder how different our country and world would be if this young generation knew Jesus. If we, as parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, and family members did our job by helping these young people know God by getting them to church on the weekend, providing them with a biblical foundation, and guiding them into right relationships with other believers.
The momentum of the sixties faltered somewhere, but I believe it’s trying to pick back up again. This is amazing news, and I pray my children see change and are a part of it. In fact, this very generation (Z) is known for its desire for social activism and pushing for equality. But, in my opinion, all of this done without God is a failure from the start.
What are your thoughts? How can we be a part of helping Generation Z know God and push for the change Dr. King believed in?
And on a lighter note, where were you when you first heard Dr. King’s iconic speech?
Kristen's passionate about storytelling and helping people take their next steps in their relationship with Jesus.
She lives forty-five minutes outside of Atlanta, GA. where she served as a Children's Ministry Director for many years. With the support of her husband and two children, she now stays home writing fiction and non-fiction.
She also serves on the women’s leadership team at her local church and writes for Crosswalk and Wholly Loved Ministries. You can check out her articles and novels at www.kristenterrette.com.
Back Cover Blurb for Kristen’s new novel, See You Monday:
Senior year. The homestretch.
Honor student, Grace Warner, had it easy. Popularity, friends, attention from her crush, even a soccer scholarship offer—if only she can figure out her senior project to graduate on time. Getting approval to write about someone’s life-changing event, Grace recruits her sassy grandma as her mentor who can’t wait to tell the crazy story from her childhood.
Events in the early sixties are words in history books to Grace, but her grandma lived them. She witnessed the civil rights movement in full swing, desegregation becoming a reality in her southern town, Martin Luther King, Jr. moving the country with his iconic speech, and the country coming to a halt when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Grace loves finding out her family history but didn't know the project would have her noticing hardships and prejudices at her school she hadn’t before. When the homecoming court is announced and new kid, Jacob Horton, is nominated as a colossal prank, it brings Grace to a choice, much like her grandmother years before her. God is about to use her in a miracle if she chooses correctly. If she fails, a life could be lost.
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