How dialogue came out of Dr. King's assassination

Paul Derrick

Shortly following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Paul Young, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Dr. Marvin C. Griffin, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, started a joint Sunday morning adult discussion-class on May 5, 1968, to promote interracial dialogue and interaction. The class met in the "Friendship House," a storefront occupied by Inner City Ministry on "The Square" in old downtown Waco.

This was courtesy of Rev. Billy Mack Patteson, the executive director of Inner City Ministry, the organization which later came to operate the Meals & Wheels meals delivery and transportation program. The class included white members from Central Presbyterian Church and black members from New Hope Baptist. They read and discussed Charles E. Silberman's book Crisis in Black and White. White members included my wife Jane and me, Virginia DuPuy, Mary and Jim McVey and Dr. Fred and Nancy Gehlbach. Black members included Willie and Barbara Hobbs, and Dr. Jim and Vivian Mayes. The group met Sunday mornings through the end of July.

After several meetings, members of the group perceived the need for a similar offering in the wider community. On June 4, 1968, they started an additional meeting at the Doris Miller YMCA on Tuesday evenings.

This group, which came to known as the Doris Miller Dialogue Group — DMDG — attracted a broader group of black and white citizens concerned about racial issues in Waco. They began by discussing the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Stokley Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, which helped introduce and distinguish between the concepts of "institutional racism" and "individual racism."

After reading the book, the group became more of an action group. Among its activities were efforts to influence the spending of federal Model Cities anti-poverty money and the formation of a City of Waco Human Relations Commission. The DMDG included blacks who were or who would became leaders in the black community, including Cullen Harris (who later became a justice of the peace), Ulysses Cosby (a postal employee and outspoken community activist), Thurman Dorsey (who became director of EOAC), and the Rev. Robert Gilbert (teacher, minister, community activist, and later a member of the Human Relations Commission and the WISD School Board).

Some of the white members included the Rev. Kenneth and Pat Solberg (who were forming a non-denominational house church focused on social action), Kay and Ken Mueller, Ralph and Janice White from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Lane Denton (who became a state representative in 1970), and my wife Jane and me.

The DMDG met weekly until around September 1969, and then began meeting less regularly as newly-energized members became increasingly active in other community activities such as the newly-formed Waco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, a commodities delivery program, a short-lived children's breakfast program, a welfare rights organization, neighborhood center activities, the local chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the League of Women Voter's voter registration drives and other community studies, and various political campaigns.

Primarily through the efforts of the DMDG, the Waco City Council in about 1969 established — reluctantly, it seemed — a Human Relations Commission. After researching similar commissions in other cities, the DMDG drafted and proposed a city ordinance for Waco. The council eventually passed an ordinance establishing a commission for Waco, although most DMDG members considered it a watered-down, relatively powerless body which had no subpoena power to meaningfully investigate cases of alleged discrimination.

The presentation of the draft ordinance to the city council is itself an interesting story. Before the existence of state laws requiring "open meetings," the Waco City Council conducted closed "work session" meetings in a relatively secret location each Monday evening where issues were debated and decisions reached beyond public view. The council then held their formal meetings the next day in city hall, conducting official public votes on the issues that had been debated and decided the night before in secret.

One Monday evening Cullen Harris and I delivered the group's proposed ordinance for consideration at one of the council's closed work sessions. After being informed that the council was meeting in what appeared to be an underground bunker, Harris and I delivered the proposal and were met at the door by city personnel. The "guards" accepted and transmitted the document to the council, but Harris and Derrick weren't allowed into the meeting.

Perhaps the DMDG's last action was the organization and sponsorship of a meeting of black and white high school students in August 1971, just before the beginning of the 1971-72 school year.

In this first year of integration, Waco ISD closed its two black high schools (G.W. Carver and A.J. Moore) and integrated the black students into two formerly white schools — Richfield and Waco — and a new high school, Jefferson-Moore. DMDG group member the Rev. Robert Gilbert thought it would be good for at least some students to have an opportunity to meet each other before school began.

As a social work professor, I arranged for the meeting to be held in the lounge of Baylor's Sociology & Social Work Department. Some 30-40 students and a handful of adults attended, making it quite successful.

Paul Derrick is a retired social worker.

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