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  • Phil Latham

What Bro. Duckworth left behind

I was in eighth grade when the Kerner Commission report was released to the public. My age is no excuse for not remembering it because the events of the summer of 1968 were certainly seared into my memory and that of everyone who lived through the time.

Cities across the United States were burning. People were rioting and almost everyone I knew was frightened. So why weren’t we frightened enough to read a report that was designed to help America figure out how to stop that from ever happening again?

Tell me if you know but I doubt you do.

But first, have you noticed just how much more “woke” the eighth graders of today are when compared to us boomers at the time? Mind you, many of us knew what was going on. We were fully aware of the scourge of racism. For many – myself included – it played out in our living rooms most every night.

If you dared speak out against it, which I did, you risked be ostracized, which I was. I can’t tell you what led me to continue to rail against the injustices I saw but I’m blaming Bro. Jimmy Duckworth at Fort Worth’s Meadowbrook Baptist Church.

Duckworth was no liberal, mind you, but there wasn’t room for an ounce of hate in his heart. People think that (take your pick) liberals or conservatives are responsible for all the hate. As it turns out, though, hate can spring from any philosophy at all. It can come straight from Christianity that’s been warped in that direction.

Duckworth was not warped. Instead, he preached on God’s grace and the love He offers to all who want and need it. Those are words I still believe today, though I’ve long since left the Baptist way behind for another denomination.

Don’t kid yourself, any faith road can lead you in the wrong direction.

Duckworth spoke calmly with words so true they could not be denied. The only problem was, not everybody was speaking the same language, not even everybody in that church.

In eighth grade I just could not understand the gulf between what Duckworth said in the pulpit every Sunday and what I would hear from adults and other friends my age the rest of the time. Sometimes, all it took was the few minutes it took going from the sanctuary to our car before the message seemed to be forgotten.

For a time there was a move by Blacks in the south to try to attend white church services. This frightened the white people so much that they were literally locking the doors from the inside with chains. All it would have taken is one errant spark to turn us into cinders.

An urgent meeting of the deacons of Meadowbrook Baptist Church was called, as I understand it, and a decision was made. Bro. Duckworth announced the church’s position the next Sunday.

He said that, if a black person, or group, tried to enter the church, no one was to try to stop them.

“We’re not going to be mean to anybody or ask them to leave,” he said, as best I remember it. “After the service one of us will go up to them and ask them calmly just not to come back.”

That does not exactly pass for God’s love but I contend it was many times better than most churches then and maybe better than some now.

I believe we’re all better than that and what we are showing today. Duckworth left this earthly plane some years ago but it can be said that he left pointing us in the right direction, even if we have not always followed the proper way.

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