ANDERSON — Maurice Caldwell and his wife, Dondeena, can remember a time when African Americans weren’t allowed in restaurants and had their own drinking fountains.
“I remember they would turn black people away at restaurants or serve them out back,” Dondeena Caldwell said. “And that was in the North.”
But that all changed, thanks in large part to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. who is celebrated today through many different remembrances and memorials. Maurice Caldwell and his friend Ed Foggs took part in the famous March on Washington in 1963. They were also present for King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Foggs said he can still vividly remember that day in Washington and the feeling he had after hearing the speech.
“There was such a buoyancy that I felt after he finished his speech,” Foggs said. “It was as if I wasn’t standing under my own power. It was as if I was being lifted up.”
Foggs said the march turned out better than anyone could have hoped. He said many of the organizers were unsure about how many people would show up. But as the day wore on, more and more people started showing up, coming from all over the nation.
“It wasn’t just Washington people,” Foggs said. “This was a national gathering.”
Maurice Caldwell met King on two different occasions, once in Montgomery in 1957 and again in Atlanta in 1963. He was invited to speak at King’s church in Montgomery while he was a missionary in Mexico. He said King had a great interest in the Church of God.
The impact of those visits and his background in ministry led Maurice to join the March on Washington. He said even when he was in seminary school in New Jersey, news of King’s work reached him.
“I felt indebted to him because he helped me to focus on my life goals and I’ve been a different person of my acquaintance with Dr. King,” Maurice Caldwell said.
Maurice Caldwell, who is white, said he learned early from his father and other pastors that race discrimination was wrong. He said they would take trips to Anderson for the Church of God convention with his father and three other ministers, one of whom was black.
“They would stop at restaurants and if they wouldn’t serve (the African-American minister), none of us would eat there,” Caldwell said. “That taught me the right thing from an early age.”
The march had a deep impact on the Caldwells, and they believe it was one of the most important moments for the civil rights movement.
“It certainly changed a lot in our society,” Maurice said. “But we still have some work to do.”
Some of the people who will be carrying on that work were with James Burgess, head of Anderson-Madison County’s NAACP branch, at the 50-year anniversary of the march during the summer of 2013. He said he was heartened by the amount of young people who went on the trip.
“There were a lot of people who have never been involved in protests,” Burgess said. “This new generation was finding out what mobilizing is all about.”
He said the young people got on opportunity to experience what it was like to protest and march.
As the nation remembers what King fought for, Burgess said some of the issues the nation is facing today would “appall” King, especially poverty.
“King’s dream was about getting civil rights and then keeping civil rights,” Burgess said. “Our poverty levels are at an all-time high and I think Dr. King would be appalled.”
Foggs said the progress this nation has made is like a car trip. He said he likes to use the story of a ride from Indianapolis to Kansas City. He said when you get to St. Louis you commend yourself on the progress you’ve made, but you realize the ultimate destination has not been reached.
“I think the majority population likes to look at how far we’ve come,” Foggs said. “And the minority population likes to look at how far we have to go. It’s a matter of perspective.”
He agreed with Burgess about the poverty a lot of minorities face in today’s world. He said the dream King was so passionate about had moved from being able to stay in a hotel to being able to afford that hotel room.
Foggs said he often thinks about what King would say about today’s society.
“I don’t think he would say we haven’t made any progress,” Foggs said. “But I don’t think he would say we don’t have any more work to do.”
Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB, or call 640-4847.