Interview with Joseph Azbell
QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

YOU GAVE US A LOVELY, LONG DESCRIPTION OF THAT FIRST MASS MEETING AT HOPE STREET AND I WONDER IF WE COULD GET THAT FROM YOU AGAIN A LITTLE SHORTER? BUT PUT WHAT YOU NEED TO, BUT I PARTICULARLY REMEMBER, I'LL TELL YOU WHAT I PARTICULARLY REMEMBER IS YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT HOW FIRED UP PEOPLE GOT.

Joseph Azbell:

OK. The Hope Street Baptist Church was probably, in my lifetime so far, the most fired up, enthusiastic, gathering of human beings that I've ever seen. I came down the street and I couldn't believe there was that many cars. I parked many blocks from the church just to get a place for my car and I went on up at the church and went in and they made a way for me because I was the first white person there and they made a way, all the way down through there for me and they, the preachers were preaching as I came in. I was about two minutes late coming in and they were preaching and that audience was so on fire, that they, the preacher would get up and say, "Do you want your freedom?" And they'd say, "Ye I want my freedom." Are you for what we're doing? "Ye go ahead, go ahead." ** And in the Baptist churches down here and in the churches around down here, they have a word they say, "Go ahead, uh-huh, go ahead." Which means, "Amen" and so forth. And they got so excited and they were singing with such, I've never heard singing like that. I've never heard, there was no one taking a tape of it, and there was a singing going on that they were on fire, or Jesus. They were on fire for freedom. They were on fire, that at last this was going to be lifted off of them. And I recognized that. There was a spirit there that no one could ever capture again in a movie or anything else because it was so powerful. And then King stood up, and they didn't even, most of them didn't even know who he was, and yet he was the master speaker. It's been said that if one of those people there that night, if he had said go in, tear up the town, they would have gone and torn up the town. But they were peaceful, they were. Even at that early first meeting, they were passive and they called for law and order. They said, don't y'all do anything illegal now, y'all stay right. And then they got to singing again and the voices would come back, "Yes, go ahead, Amen, tell Jesus, tell Jesus!" And Jesus was there, it was a Jesus meeting. It was Jesus was going to lift this guilt off their shoulders. And I went back and I wrote, on the editorial page the next day, in a special column, I wrote that this was the beginning of a flame that would go across America. And I don't know why or what have you, maybe its prophecy or so forth, but I described what was going to happen out of that meeting in that article.