Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was a 25-year-old seminary student caught up in the civil rights movement when he landed in a jail cell with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960. It was a life-changing experience for him. King’s commitment to nonviolence and to seeing all humans as brothers and sisters changed Talbert.
Narrator: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality for all. Many United Methodists valued his vision and his leadership. Bishop Melvin Talbert described King’s impact on him and others.
(Voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) One day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
Bishop Melvin Talbert: I met Dr. King personally back in 1960. I was privileged to be in the same jail cell with him for three days and three nights. I was very radical at that time. I know what it means to go into a lunch counter where it says “White Only,” “Black Only.” And so, some of us had said, we aren’t going to continue to accept this. We’re going to bring about change. So Dr. King, of course, was about the same kind of thing. And being with Dr. King gave us a chance to express our views and to get his views because he was talking about something a little different than what we were talking about. We were talking about change. He was talking about nonviolent revolution. It was in those experiences that I said, you know, there is another way and the other way is the way of love, the way of justice. What would I say to Dr. King? We need to do what you ask us to do. That is honestly living in good human relationships with each other across racial lines. I’m not sure that we’ll get there in my lifetime. But all I can say to you, thank God it’s not the way it used to be. And thanks be to God there are those of us who can help shape what the future must be. And if I had a chance to talk to him, it wouldn’t have been a big conversation. I would have just simply said, you know, "I want to thank you for the impact that you’ve had on my life. You’ve made life worth living for me. Thank you."
Narrator: Bishop Melvin Talbert reflected on the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during an exclusive interview with United Methodist Communications in 2003.
Elected bishop in 1980, Talbert later served as ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops. He traveled around the world in that role, including to Iraq in January 2003 on a peace mission. He is known for his commitment to racial, gender and sexual orientation inclusiveness.
Born in Clinton, La., he served as a pastor in California, top executive for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, and bishop of the Seattle and San Francisco Areas. He lives in Nashville, Tenn.
View all the videos of United Methodists who walked with Martin Luther King Jr. and share his dream.
This encore video was first posted in February, 2015.