This week our LIFE class was joined by Mignette Patrick Dorsey who talked about her book "Speak Truth to Power", the story of her father, Charles Patrick, a civil rights pioneer. When we think of civil rights heroes, we think first of Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, but there were many people who pushed for civil rights in ways large and small before the national movement in the 1960s.
Charles Patrick's role as civil rights pioneer began with a traffic incident in 1954 in Alabama. While waiting to back into a parking space, a white woman pulled in to the space instead. When he confronted her about it, the lady became agitated and stated that her husband was a police officer and implied that she could park wherever she wanted. The woman reported the incident to her husband and some time later, Mr. Patrick was assaulted by the police. In those days, it was common for a black man standing in front of a judge to say "I failed your honor", a plea similar to "no contest" regardless of innocence as the law (and unlawful) were quick to lynch. But Charles Patrick had had enough. As a veteran of the Korean War, Mr. Patrick didn't want to hide the truth. He took the beating case to trial. He won the civil trial; the offending officers were suspended. The case was then appealed directly to the personnel board, and this time the offending officers were fired.
But Mr, Patrick's story goes beyond his decision to speak his truth to the powers that be at the time. It is the story of a community that was tired of the status-quo and was ready for change. Many citizens; black and white, Christian and non-Christian, spoke out against his mistreatment and wrote letters to the city government letting them know the voters would not support any elected official who opposed Mr. Patrick. Although we tend to think of civil rights as a series of a few highly publicized events which catapulted the movement into the mainstream, it was really the culmination of many smaller unreported stories of people just like Charles Patrick that caused a groundswell of action to push our nation into a new era.
To learn more about Mr. Patrick's place in our nation's history, please check out the website below.