The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell was a young seminarian when he met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Boston University. He spent time with the civil rights leader as part of an effort to support public schools in the area. The experience shaped Caldwell’s future as a footman in the civil rights movement and as a United Methodist pastor. In early 2015, Caldwell looked back, and forward, at strides for justice. “When there is institutionalized prejudice against a person for one reason or another, how can we be at ease in Zion? The job of the church is to address these.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for equality for all. Many United Methodists valued his vision and his leadership. The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell described King’s impact on him and others during a 2015 interview.
The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell: “This is a picture taken in May of 1958 at Boston University School of Theology. Martin King had been in the Boston area I think, speaking at Brandeis University. And some of us at Boston University involved in the student association decided we would invite him to come over to the school and speak to classes. There we are, students gathered around him. I am seated on his left. I was 24 and I guess he was 29.
We were in that Roxbury section, I believe, of Boston, which, of course, was then the predominantly black section, at one of the public schools that we were concerned about. There was great excitement even that early in his career. This was ’65. So obviously, he had achieved such magnificent notoriety, just drew crowds, black and white. People just sort of followed everywhere we went that day. Then I introduced Martin King on Boston Common, when he spoke to a great rally there for about 20,000 people.
I was impressed by the way he related to those of us who were students. The charisma that we know of that was his from a pulpit or from a lectern was just so very powerful, but then in one-on-one’s, there was almost a kind of quietness, a good listener.
I was in Chicago when we got that awful news of his assassination. It drained one emotionally and otherwise, and it drained the nation.
I found myself on the night that Obama was first elected, thinking of course, of that incident, that moment in our American history, and then remembering, of course, what happened to the dreamer, the drum major for justice, Martin King.
One can never be at rest when one knew Martin King. One of his statements that I just use over and over again, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ When there is institutionalized prejudice against persons for one reason or another, how can we be at ease in Zion? And for me, the job of the church, of course, is to address these.”
Caldwell is a retired elder and member of the Rocky Mountain Conference. A member of the board of the African American Methodist Heritage Center, he lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
View all the videos of United Methodists who walked with Martin Luther King Jr. and share his dream.
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.