Michael Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Later in life, he had his first name changed to "Martin." We know well the probable (and prophetic) reason he had it changed. Dr. King was quite the reformer in his own right.
As a white boy growing up in the south of the 1960's (Nashville, Tennessee), I was well aware of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. I can honestly say that if anything was ever said about the man and the movement around our dinner table, it wasn't anything that I recall as good or bad. Virgil and Dorothy Nipper, I'm sure, being bred in the generation that they were, carried the white prejudice to some degree towards the African American race of those days. I do remember, vaguely, one set of my grandparents, Spencer and Lucile Waddell, using terms that would certainly not be acceptable today in descriptions of the "black people of the 60's," but somehow stuck with me and I didn't understand why those words felt so unacceptable to me when they were used then, until later in life.
Many of you have heard my stories of Spencer Jack Waddell, the man who sold sporting goods and also - early in his career, was a semi-pro Golden Gloves boxer. As he would travel around the state of Tennessee, he would sell his Worth baseballs; he also would put on what he called "smokers" for the little towns from time to time. "Smokers' were more exhibitions about boxing where no one was hurt-where it wasn't a "real fight." There were many times that there would be official fights scheduled with some local boy with a promising future or an old dude with a great deal of pride (and some with a not-too-bad-of-a-record to go with it). Someday I'll have to share more of those stories at a more appropriate time.
Mr. Waddell had a chauffeur who traveled with him quite often. His name was Ed Napier. He told my grandfather that he was a "reverend" and my grandfather respected that, so, when he would introduce him to his country friends, it would be "Rev. Ed Napier, but known to many in Nashville, as "Kid Lightnin'." You see, Rev. Napier was not only a self-proclaimed preacher, but also a boxer. To top it all off, he was also an African American! He was my grandfather's sparring partner.
What was interesting, according to Mr. Waddell, was when the town folk in almost every town found out that "Kid Lightnin'" was a boxer, the people always had someone who wanted to box him and not Mr. Waddell. In those days, I'm afraid to admit, to be able to beat up on a black man in public and it "was legal" - many wanted to jump at the chance! I remember my grandfather did say that Rev. Napier rarely lost any of his bouts, and, if he was outmatched, Spencer would step in and stop it pretty quickly.
Today, this weekend, as I think and pray about the work of Dr. King, but deep down inside, I'm thinking, too, of a man I never met, but heard a lot about. Spencer Waddell may have bore the normal prejudice of the south in his day, but I'm convinced that he also had learned a respect that went beyond the nature of the usual contempt for the races between us. Ed Napier, who was a - chauffeur - sparring partner - reverend - was also a friend to my "Grandaddy." I can say this: I never heard a harsh word about "Kid Lightnin'" ever from our grandparent's dinner table.
Thank you, Dr. King, and yes - Rev. Napier - for forging forth into some pretty mean, awful places and horrible occasions all to "take it on the chin" many times, in order to begin the battle for human equality. We give thanks for The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was (and his work remains) a beacon of light for the world to see and from which to learn. But I will forevermore remember the friendship and companionship that my grandfather had with a man who earned his respect and set the stage for me and the rest of our family to follow suit: The Rev. Ed Napier.
Think about life today - with a very important transition of power about to happen this coming week, and consider how we can put aside those many differences - politically and socially - and come together as human beings in order to serve the common world we share.
"Michael and Ed" -- we owe you so much!
God loves you and so do we!