NORMAN — OU professor emeritus Dr. George Henderson on Monday challenged those celebrating the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to do more than just feel good about the event.
“We must be the miracle makers who reach out to help,” Henderson told those attending the sixth Mayor’s Interfaith Breakfast at First Christian Church. “This is not about a feel-good celebration of his life. This is about a do-good celebration.”
He encouraged the audience to speak out against racism and injustice and to not reserve such actions for once a year. Take action in our homes, our schools, workplaces and places of worship, he said.
“If not us, then who? If not now, when? If not here, where?” he said.
The event, sponsored by the Norman Human Rights Commission, included remarks by Henderson, prayers from six local ministers, a song and silent reflection period.
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said the event has grown in numbers each year.
Henderson — a David Ross Boyd professor emeritus, Regents professor emeritus of human relations, education and sociology — came to Norman from Michigan in 1967 with his wife, Barbara, mother-in-law and children.
He was introduced at the event by Kay Ham, chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission. The Hendersons are believed to be the first African Americans to purchase a home in Norman. He was one of the first full-time African American faculty members at OU.
In his most recent book and in past interviews, Henderson described the racial climate in Norman at the time that he arrived here as challenging: prank telephone calls, garbage thrown on their lawn and clerks following their children in grocery stores.
Looking out into the crowd Monday, Henderson said much has happened.
“I am Exhibit A, and my brothers and sisters here are Exhibit B,” he said. “There’s a wonderful sense of celebration in this room. All of us here have changed because of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
He said recalling his memories of King is like watching an old movie. Like society, the movie he watches is in black and white. Segregation forced him to watch such movies in the balconies. King taught him to challenge the assumptions of a segregated society and to take action.
“The important thing is we were doing something to help other people,” he said, noting the civil rights movement was for future generations.
Henderson urged the audience to fight poverty. He noted that the gap between rich and poor widens as the middle class shrinks.
“It’s a tragedy and probably a sin. We have more than we need, and a lot of people don’t have enough to eat,” he said.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.