A Life Changed at the Lunch Counter

Date posted: Tuesday 27 February 2018

In January, a cohort of lay leaders from across our synod traveled to Atlanta for Martin Luther King Jr weekend, where they would learn about race, privilege, and justice. There, they met with faith and community leaders, worshiped at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and toured different museums and exhibits. In this Lenten blog series, members of the cohort are sharing reflections on what they experienced and learned during this trip, and what questions they continue to grapple with.


There I was at the airport at 6:00 am on a cold Saturday morning in January, was waiting for six people I had met only once. We were embarking on a trip to Atlanta, where we would spend five days, 24 hours a day together in a house. In my mind, these five days seemed like a remarkable opportunity but they ended up being more: they were life-changing.


The trip was organized by the synod and led by two synod staff: Anna Marsh and the Rev. Justin Grimm. The others participants were two women under 30 and three of us women over 60. The two generations being together meant that we gained different perspectives and learned from one another. We learned a lot about the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the continued legacy of racism in America. We visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, many museums, and Emory University, and we took a Civil Rights Tour led by Tom Houck, who marched with and worked for Dr. King.


The high point for me was our visit to The Center for Civil and Human Rights. There, we saw papers in Dr. King’s own handwriting, as well as exhibits that present the enduring struggle for equality around the world. The extraordinary main exhibit was about the Civil Rights Movement. One part of the Center had an especially profound effect on me: the lunch counter.


The lunch counter at the Center for Civil and Human Rights

From Remembering...to Understanding...

At the lunch counter, you sit on stools at a counter, put on head phones, and place your hands on the designated places on the counter. You are challenged to see if you could stay seated for one minute and 30 seconds, experiencing only the smallest fraction of what it meant to participate in a sit-in. As soon as my hands were down, hateful voices started yelling in one ear and then the other:


"Get away from the counter, boy!"  

"We don't want your kind here."

"If you don't get up now, I'm going to kill you, boy!"

"I'm going to stab you in the neck with this fork".


Periodically you do not only hear but feel fists slamming down on the counter and feet kicking your stool. I lasted there only because I kept telling myself, "They can't hurt you, this isn't real." I thought of the brave souls, many of whom were young adults, dressed in their Sunday best. They were not only threatened, yelled at, and insulted but some of the crowd poured hot coffee, syrup and other liquids over their heads. Some were physically harmed, yet the protesters remained.


I remember these sit-ins, but the one minute and 34 seconds when I sat at that counter made me realize how little I really understood. Having had that experience, I am not the same. I can no longer think the suffering of non-whites in this country is someone else's problem. As a white Christian, I will no longer be complicit. I am one person who will no longer remain silent. I will educate myself on issues of racial injustice and I will speak out. I will listen to the non-white voices and do my best to make a difference.


Mary Ann Brooks

Shepherd of the Valley, Apple Valley