Interview with Coretta Scott King
QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

…DESCRIBE ONE OF THE MASS MEETINGS. JUST THINK OF ONE AND LET US TAKE US THERE IN A WORD PICTURE.

Coretta Scott King:

Mass meetings usually were attended by the maids and cooks and janitors and people who really used the buses a lot. And they would leave work and come to the church very early. And ** they would start prayer services. I think people looked forward to coming to the church, where they could just kind of, you know, in a sense, relax and fellowship and commune, and I think be renewed and inspired. I think the prayers and the singing served as, as a kind of a therapeutic thing for them in terms of giving them the strength to continue the next day. And as Christian people, they believed very much, you know, in prayer, and the songs of, of the faith, and all. And just, just people coming together in solidarity and having and sharing some of the same kinds of experiences. It helped them to go back out the next day, to face whatever insults that they were going to have to face. And when you think about some of those people who really were working for people who really were very angry, and who would talk about the leadership, and they'd have to listen to that and not say a word. I mean, they'd have to—and maybe some of them would listen and almost agree, knowing that they didn't agree. You know, it was because they—in those days, you, you couldn't express your feelings if you were on that other end, you know, as, as a person who worked for someone, 'cause they—-very often, they'd been good to them in terms of helping them with their families, doing extra things. They didn't pay them very much, but they would do other things for them, and, and I think they loved them in a patronizing kind of way, you know, paternalistically. There were some genuine, genuine relationships, I'm sure. There were some. Then they would be there, singing and praying for hours, sometimes, before the program actually started, the main part of the mass meeting. ** I think the mass meetings started around seven, seven thirty. And by the time the leadership got there, the clergy and all, and they started the main part of the program, which was to discuss where things were and whatever incidents that had taken place, to keep them informed, and then to give them strategy, direction on the strategies the next, the next step and all of that. And 'cause people would wait to get the word. What's Dr. King's going to say? Dr. Abernathy would speak first, usually. And he would—had the ability to really make them laugh and maybe make them cry some. I mean, that's 'cause he would—he told jokes—he, he really knew how to, you know, kind of get them in the mood, ** so they could sit and listen to what Dr. King had to say. And so the combination of the two styles was very good, very helpful, I think. Not that Reverend Abernathy wasn't ever serious, but he really had that ability, to kind of, you know, speak to people right where they, they were at the moment. And, I guess you'd call it a kind of folksy quality. He was able to do that because that was a part of his style. Whereas with Martin, he was more, I guess what you would consider formal, and he would come along with a very thoughtful message, ** a very analytical message, his main message usually was. And then as a preacher, I mean, he got emotional and involved in his message. But by the time he got to that point, I mean, they had listened and they had understood what he was talking about, and with the sincerity that he had, you know, and his great oratory, and his charisma and all of that, and he moved people. He persuaded them, you know, when he talked to them about the meaning of not, of, of being willing to absorb the suffering and even the physical blows without retaliating, and what this would mean in terms of, of the kind of, being a kind of redeeming force for change. And that, making them feel very good about what they were doing, that they were making a contribution just by being there, by putting their bodies, so to speak, on the line, by being a part of the protest and being identified with it. He also helped them to understand that maybe there were some people who could not be there, because they, they played a different role, but those people gave funds and supported. Maybe not everyone has to be here, physically, and be seen, 'cause if you worked for the state in those days, you were a teacher, you may not be able to come to a mass meeting and, and keep your job. But some people had enough courage to lose their job. He talked about—it's important, what we're doing is important. It's important enough to lose a job. I mean, a job is not important.