Hidden History: Minister looks back on the Civil Rights Movement

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - At age 75 the Reverend Doctor Harold Middlebrook's passion for civil rights still burns strong. 

“I'm convinced that God has the plan for your life.”

It started for him as a child in segregated Memphis, Tennessee.

“Our teachers would teach us history, and my mom was subject to wake you up at four or five o'clock in the morning and tell you to sing the second verse of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ And the folk in my house, my grandparents and my mother and them would sit around in the morning, read the paper and talk about issues,” said Rev. Middlebrook.

As a young man, the civil rights movement was coming to a boil. The African-American community was demanding justice and a preacher named Doctor Martin Luther King was making headlines. 

“So when Martin Luther King started in ‘54, or ‘55, ‘56 with the Montgomery bus, we kept up with it every day in my household, and our teachers would have us to subscribe to the Commercial Appeal newspaper, which was the daily paper,” said Rev. Middlebrook.

Rev. Middlebrook would go on to college at a prestigious school in Atlanta where his life would take a turn. 

“So, I graduated and went on to Morehouse, did a summer program as Woodrow Wilson's student and got involved with Lonnie King, Herschel Sullivan, Julian Bond, all of that crowd in Atlanta for the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights,” said Rev. Middlebrook.

Now a part of the Vanguard for the Revolution of equality, Rev. Middlebrook was facing some of the hardest moments of his youth.

“Ended up going to jail, and then ended up going to jail with Dr. King in Atlanta in 1960.”

His friendship with Dr. King would land him in tense situations with local police.

“They went out to the car and got a rubber hose and came to proceed to whip me with the rubber hose. Now here's the difference, the tire irons can leave bruises and scars, that's visible. The rubber hose leaves you wounded on the inside,” said Rev. Middlebrook.

Looking back on the day Dr. King was assassinated, Rev. Middlebrook reminds us all that the movement was bigger than one man.

“The dream was not just Martin's dream, it was the dream of thousands of people who had suffered through segregation, humiliation, degradation, and here was their opportunity to strive to be free, to be liberated.”

Rev. Middlebrook retired from pastoral care at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ three years ago. He's slowed down a bit but is still pressing for change. 

“When I look at 50 years ago, it merely challenges me that whatever years I have left and whatever strength I have left, I've got to continue fighting.”

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