Cedar Grove Foundation leader discusses King's faith

By Julie Fann
star staff

J.C. Augustus, creator of the Cedar Grove Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to collecting and preserving African-American history in Carter County, says important facts about Martin Luther King, Jr. were lost during the Civil Rights Movement.
   "First and foremost, King was a Baptist preacher, something that got lost in the Civil Rights Movement. The grace of God won him. He had to walk the way God would have him walk; that's why he chose the path of nonviolence," Augustus said.
   "Not only in Carter County but as a nation I think that as long as we hang on to old, biased traditions and refuse to find the common ground that Dr. King spoke of, which was simply about being of service to the community, then we have a long way to go. Martin Luther King Day should be a day of renewal, of a need to step out of our comfort zone and be of service to our community. Dr. King said we can all be great."
   King's philosophy of nonviolence was guided by the all-inclusiveness of Christian love: the ideal that people should love their enemies. It was not, as many believe, something King came to believe by studying the work of Mohandas Gandhi, scholars say.
   Early on, King saw nonviolence as a practical stance, not a moral obligation. His early attitude was that there were simply more white people than black people in the nation, and if fighting broke out, black people would lose.
   It took King until the mid-1950's to see the disconnection between leading a nonviolent demonstration and having armed bodyguards.
   Rev. James H. Cone of Union Theological Seminary made the following statement about King:
"If America really saw the whole person of King, it would be very difficult for America to embrace him the way America does," Cone said. "It is that early King that is easily manipulated. The King of 1967 and '68 realized that white liberals were not as much in favor of equality for black people and other people of color as he thought."
Perhaps King's greatest strength is how his views radically changed during his life. At the time of his death, he was not at all the popular figure he has become today.
   He had begun to speak out against the Vietnam War and policies in South Africa. He criticized the American government and its global effect. And, he said the refusal of some white people to give up power kept people of all races, not just blacks, from opportunity.
   Also, near the time of his death, King spoke often about what he had come to believe were the three great evils: war, poverty, and racial hatred. King spoke often of his belief that these three things were intricately linked.
   Contrary to popular image, King did not always like, much less embrace, white people.
   King was raised in the South during the years of segregation. He watched his father endure horrible bigotry, something that made the young King very angry.
   King was eight years old when he was slapped by a white woman in a downtown Atlanta department store and insulted with a racial slur. When he was in high school he stood on a bus for 90 miles after being cursed by the driver and ordered to give up his seat to whites who had just boarded.
   The Cedar Grove Foundation in Carter County is named after a cemetery on Gap Creek Road where about 90 percent of the county's African-American's are buried, according to Augustus.
   "The cemetery dates back to 1821, but we think it goes back a bit further than that," Augustus said.
   This is the fifth year that the foundation has set up a display in the Elizabethton-Carter County Public Library that depicts some recently uncovered aspect of African-American history in the county.
   This year's exhibit honors Carter County's three oldest African-American churches -- Phillipi Missionary Baptist Church, Browns Chapel AME Zion Church, and St. Paul United Methodist Church.
   "Phillipi is the oldest. It was founded by Horace Leftwich in 1867. He was a former slave who was brought to Tennessee by Lt. William McQueen who lived in Johnson County," Augustus said.
   Aside from the display in the public library, Carter County did not hold any formal, public observance honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. or African-American history.
   The Cedar Grove Foundation operates with five volunteers in a small office, and Augustus dreams of one-day having a museum.
   Editors Note: Background information about Martin Luther King, Jr. was found on the Web at www.poynter.org.