The Rev. Dr. Jesse L. Douglas Photo by Jenny Risher

By Robert Alan Glover

Part I of a II Part Series

JACKSON, TN — The Rev. Dr. Jesse L. Douglas turns 87 this coming August.

He walked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 52 years ago during the Selma to Montgomery march. On January 16th in observance of the King Holiday, Rev. Douglas – a 1959 alumnus of Lane College in Jackson, TN will speak at its annual MLK Memorial Program.

Douglas, an albino Black man, easily passed as white while working for the NAACP and Dr. King during the civil rights era. “I am going to talk about the Black man’s struggle (in America),” Mr. Douglas stated recently. “Starting

in 1620, the Pilgrims brought 20 slaves with them to America. They were  hoping to live here as free men. I also want to tell people that the wiser our young people become today, the more concerned they will become about what is going on around them,” he added. He also noted that: “More and more people are growing aware of their rights, which makes those who would disinherit them back up.”

Douglas’ light skinned complexion allowed him to attend all-white events and report back to civil rights colleagues with his observations. When activists targeted Atlanta’s segregated cafeteria in Rich’s Department Store, Douglas was their point man. “I went into the state funded cafeteria and got served because they thought I was white.  I watched the rest of our group come in. but they were refused service and then was asked to leave,” Douglas recalled. ‘They’ were SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), which Douglas and others organized at five colleges across Atlanta, including Atlanta University.”

Douglas explained that they would meet, discuss their ‘targets,’ break up and then go to the different assignments. Then came the historic 50 mile Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. “We had to organize everything – from housing to food for the marchers, seeing that Dr. King and others got there (to Selma) and back. Dr. King had been banned from the city, (Montgomery)” Douglas shared.

Only 7,000 of our 50,000 Black residents were registered to vote before the march.  The numbers increased to 22,000 registered voters, along with voter education workshops, open registration, and participation drives that were already there, according to Mr. Douglas.

He feels that – voting irregularities duly noted – voting exclusion, “is less of a problem now than it was in 1965. “Back then, you see, it was TOTALLY a matter of white people trying to restrict Blacks from voting, whereas now different groups are being targeted.  Young people need to use their voice,” Douglas noted.

“Unless they do (vote), they are not recognized as citizens of this country,” Douglas said bluntly.

But how does he view our situation in America today? “Progress has been slow but it is working – like yeast in bread. You can’t see it rising to the top but its working,” Douglas explained. And what about that man (Dr. King) in the middle of all of this?  “I do believe that Dr. King was absolutely a prophet. His mentors were Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ. And much like Jesus, he foretold another coming in his final days. He told us that God had permitted him to go to the mountaintop and see the Promised Land, which means that we will one day all enjoy the First Amendment rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Dr.

King also showed us that hate destroys its possessors, as it eats away at their souls.

The only reason we all look different is because our races originated in different parts of the world,” the activist said.

Mr. Douglas’ January 16th address will be at the T.R. White SportsPlex in Jackson, TN. The Lane College Youth Chapter of the NAACP is co-hosting the event, which will feature a re-enactment of an actual sit-in. Breakfast is free.

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