KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook came full circle Friday night as he was honored at the University of Tennessee’s diversity banquet.
Dr. Middlebrook became involved in the civil rights movement and started working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a college student at Morehouse College. At the banquet, he took the time to talk to students, hoping to inspire them to become involved.
“You know the struggle is going to go on even after you are gone, so if we can mentor, if we can share with others as we pass along, then the world is in pretty good shape,” said Dr. Middlebrook. “It’s important, I think for young people to remember early that we rise together or we fall together.”
“We’re living in a time that is difficult. We are living in a time where campuses don’t want to talk about diversity.” – Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook
In 1968, while an assistant pastor at Middle Baptist Church in Memphis, Middlebrook worked with others to secure King’s appearance in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. He was among the group assembled at Lorraine Motel on April 3 when King was assassinated.
“Dr. King was an inspiration to us because his example said that all of us can be something,” said Dr. Middlebrook. “All of us can make a contribution and it doesn’t really matter if your name is in the headline, it was about what you can do to help the cause, to help somebody else and that was what his life was all about and that’s what my life is all about.”
While speaking to students, Dr. Middlebrook took the time to not only talk about some of the challenges he faced, but current challenges with diversity. He talked about the news conference Thursday when April Ryan, an African-American reporter and longtime White House correspondent, asked about President Donald Trump about his campaign promise to revitalize the American urban centers.
“Are you going to include the CBC, Mr President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda?” Ryan asked. “Am I going to include who?” President Trump replied.
When Ryan explained she was referring to the 45-member congressional association, he asked if the reporter could set up a meeting. In response, Ryan replied: “No,” adding that she was “just a reporter.” “Set up the meeting,” Trump continued. “Let’s go, set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the black caucus. I think it’s great. The Congressional Black Caucus.”
“How can you not know who the Congressional Black Caucus is,” Dr. Middlebrook questioned.
Relating the incident to his time at Morehouse College, Dr. Middlebrook talked about the time an avowed racist spoke at his school. He said the man was very critical of the historically black institution.
“About 10 students were there from Africa gathered and walked out on him, but they came back, they came back in their native regalia and he said to them, ‘I apologize to you proud men of Africa,'” said Dr. Middlebrook. “When the assembly was over and we had attempted to protest, Dr. Maze said to us ‘you might not agree with what they say, at least respect their right to say it.'”
“It’s one thing to be in the room. It’s another to sit at the table. If you’re not at the table, your views aren’t heard.” – Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook
“I say to you that there are a lot of times in this struggle with dignity and diversity that we are going to disagree, but I do say at least listen to what they are saying so you know where they are coming from,” Dr. Middlebrook continued.
Dr. Middlebrook said it is only those that are ignorant who don’t want to learn about those around them. He said any person who doesn’t know their history can’t appreciate their present and has no sense of direction for his future.
“I admit, we are living in a time that is difficult,” said Dr. Middlebrook. “We are living in a time that state legislatures want to return to what used to be.”
“We are living in a time when they don’t want campuses to talk about diversity. They don’t want campuses to teach that which makes us one, but I want to tell you something,” said Dr. Middlebrook. “When they stand up and holler and say ‘we’re going to cut off the funds for the diversity program at the university,’ when they stand up and holler and say ‘we don’t want our children being taught social studies to the point that they are exposed to what other nationalities are doing,’ markup in your book that there is an individual that is number one ignorant in our community.”
Adding that people get a “clannish mentality,” Dr. Middlebrook said when they maintain that mentality they won’t want anything to be different from what they are and they don’t want change, but whether they know it or not, he said all of us are slowly but surely changing.
“This nation that is already a great nation and I’m just convinced that we can make it better when we listen to each other when we share with each other and we grow because of the conversations that we had and the relationships that we had,” said Dr. Middlebrook.