Like cities around the nation in 1960, Atlanta had two daily newspapers. On Tuesday, March 15 of that year, the evening paper, The Atlanta Journal, gave front-page coverage to the arrest of 79 of the 200 African-American college students who dared to enter restaurants at the busy lunch hour.
Attired in their Sunday best and disciplined by the training of renowned educator Dr. Benjamin Mays — who famously once said, “Not failure, but low aim is sin” — the students nervously settled into tables and booths.
Morehouse student Albert Paul Brinson, about as thin as his tie, was the designated leader of one student group that entered a café near the newspaper offices downtown. As instructed in late-night training sessions, the only words he uttered were politely and repeatedly offered: “We are here to be served.”
The nonviolent refusal of these students to leave resulted in mass arrests. A newspaper photographer snapped a photo of Albert and a policeman that was plastered on the front page with the caption: “Officer makes request…Negro occupies restaurant booth.”
Refusal of that “request” to leave led to Albert and other student protestors being transported to jail where he spent the afternoon and evening hours before being bailed out by his mentor and father figure, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr.
When Albert saw his face on the front page of the popular newspaper, he decided to walk several blocks home rather than face possible recognition and retaliation. This was just the beginning, however, of a remarkable life of Christian ministry based on the strong belief that all persons are created in the image of God.
Albert was an organizer of the Atlanta Student Movement that helped shaped the American civil rights movement in the cradle of the South. After his pioneering work as the first African-American customer service agent with Eastern Airlines, he entered seminary — influenced strongly by his big-brother figure, Dr. Martin L. King Jr.
From 1963-1967, Albert served as associate pastor to the two Kings at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Throughout that era he participated in the March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery March and lesser-known nonviolent protests with his mentors and other civil rights advocates.
Following his own long and influential ministry among American Baptists in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Albert and his wife, Vivian, returned to Atlanta and re-engaged with his home church and reconnected with close friends including Dr. Christine King Farris, older sister of MLK, Jr.
Reading about this important movement in American democracy, social justice and Christian faithfulness is good. Seeing, hearing and discussing them from and with an actual participant is much better.
From there we will board a bus with Dr. Brinson and visit many of the important civil rights sites including Ebenezer Church, Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard and the King International Chapel.
A private luncheon will be held at Paschal’s Restaurant, an iconic Atlanta restaurant that served as an unofficial communications center for the movement — a rare place where blacks and whites could eat together in the ’50s and ’60s.
Throughout the day Dr. Brinson will share firsthand accounts of his experiences with other civil rights advocates and friends who helped our nation move closer to its expressed commitments to equality and justice.
This is a timely opportunity as many of these participants are fading from the scene — and at a time when our nation desperately needs to revisit and relearn (if not learned for the first time) the important lessons of striving for justice in the spirit and practice of Jesus.
There are ways for you to be a part of this experience. You can attend by registering here.
If you would like to sponsor a student or other young person to attend, you may do so with a charitable gift. Just let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in bringing your church staff or another small group, let me hear from you as well and we’ll work out the details. This will be a day that is not easily forgotten — and that will be good for us and our nation.