‘We still have two brotherhoods,’ says longtime minister who helped organize 1968 conference.
By Bobby Ross Jr. and Hamil R. Harris| The Christian Chronicle
In the summer of tumultuous 1968, more than 40 prominent black and white ministers gathered to discuss ways to improve race relations in Churches of Christ.
The two-day national meeting — held 50 years ago at a hotel near the Atlanta airport — came less than three months after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and at the height of the unpopular Vietnam War.
One of the organizers, a black preacher named Eugene Lawton, got right to the point in describing his view of racial discrimination.
“It’s paved streets on one side of town and unpaved streets on the other side,” Lawton told the group, according to a July 5, 1968, article in The Christian Chronicle. “It’s wall-to-wall carpet on one side of town and wall-to-wall rats on the other. It’s having to sleep in the car beside the road because there’s no place in the inn.
“It’s being a member of the Church of Christ and being unable to attend a Christian college without going to Southwestern Christian College or 1,500 miles to Pepperdine,” the longtime minister of the Newark Church of Christ in New Jersey added. “It’s attending worship service and being sent to the basement. It’s a preacher being dismissed on Monday because he prayed, ‘Lord, bless the King family.’”
In interviews with the Chronicle, the 80-year-old Lawton and three other surviving attendees recalled the circumstances leading to the historic meeting, the personal bonds that were formed that June and the racial divide that still lingers a half-century later.
“The white brotherhood wasn’t even aware that racism was declared to be illegal in America,” Lawton said of 1968. “So we had tokenism at the time, but most of the Christian colleges didn’t open their doors to black students because of love and Christianity. It was based on the federal government saying you wouldn’t receive another dime (of student aid) from us unless you integrate your schools.”
This story appears in the July 2018 edition of The Christian Chronicle.
Related: “50 Years: Racial Reconciliation and the Church” is a series highlighting significant events of 1967 and 1968. Read all the stories.