Saturday, March 4, 2017
Doug Still, civil rights activist, former Cottage Grove resident
Cottage Grove is famous for many things, including its Bohemia Gold Mining district. But in my opinion, this entire area is a huge gold mine of caring residents. Tucked into quiet neighborhoods in and around town, we are blessed with so many people who are pure gold. They quietly contribute their time and talents to make ours a better world.
Former resident Doug Still falls into that golden category. I first knew him by reputation. At that time he had lived here for 31 years and he focused his interests on energy and social issues. Among other things, he was a founder of Jefferson Park, South Lane Mental Health, EPUD and renown for building the solar energy-powered Cottage Restaurant restaurant building.
In Feb. 2006 I was invited to be a guest at a Rotary meeting where Doug was the speaker. Until then I did not realize that his pre-Oregon life included a historical contribution to the Civil Rights movement. I think it bears repeating in this African American History month.
First, a historical reminder: In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. I 1865 the anti-slavery amendment was added to the Constitution and officially eliminated slavery throughout the U.S. One-hundred years later, racial equality was still being disputed in most southern states.
In the 1960s, beleaguered Black citizens all across the South began calling upon Dr. Martin Luther King for help. This American Baptist minister was also a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Beginning in 1955, he advocated a fresh approach to civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
In 1962 the Reverend Doug Still was serving in Chicago as the executive director of the department of social welfare of the Presbyterian Church Federation for four counties and 2200 churches. (He was a graduate of Union Theological Seminary and was ordained at the historic Madison Ave. Presbyterian Church in New York.)
He began his Rotary talk by saying, “One day a wire came to the Chicago clergy from Martin Luther King saying that the people of Albany, Georgia needed help. They were in trouble and needed us to come and stand with them in their efforts to desegregate the city’s libraries, parks, schools, churches and hotels. (City officials were closing them rather than integrate them).
“We formed a committee representing the three major faiths,” he said, “and boarded a bus. About 50 of us — Catholic, Protestant, clergy and lay people — rode about 800 miles to Albany to show our concern for our brothers and sisters.
“We arrived at night and the next morning we worshipped together (blacks and whites) and Martin Luther King spoke. Our strategy was to gather in front of city hall and offer a very brief prayer. The sheriff immediately arrested us and locked us up in jail. Even then we were segregated with the black people being put in the stables at the fairgrounds. Six days later, our bus left for Chicago, the most segregated city in the north.”
In 1963 King gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. After that, he won hundreds of awards including the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. The nation was inspired by King’s “dream” speech but racial acceptance was slow in coming and bloody in the process.
Later that year, many were injured in riots when James Meredith was enrolled as the first black at the University of Mississippi. In 1963 fire hoses and police dogs were turned on marchers as they demonstrated in Birmingham, Alabama. Medgar Evers, the NAACP leader was murdered. Four girls were killed in the bombing of a Baptist Church.
President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. He then signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but Malcolm X was murdered and the Watts riots left 34 dead in Los Angeles.
State and local lawmen attacked 600 civil rights workers with billy-clubs and tear gas as they as they approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. The march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama for voting rights became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Things got worse, Doug said, “Another wire came, asking the clergy and laity to come to Selma. We went down but our efforts to march across the bridge were turned away twice and we returned to Chicago. Later, the National Council of Churches asked me to go to Greenwood Mississippi where I worked with black churches.”
Unfortunately, King did not live to see his dream of peaceful coexistence come true. His voice was stilled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968 and contrary to everything he believed in, the West side of Chicago went up in flames. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Fortunately, King’s color-blind dream didn’t die with him. Others like Doug Still took up the torch and progress in racial equality has been made. Progress — not perfection. But when the torch gets dim we can still hear King exhorting us to keep the dream going: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”
Doug Still has also moved on to his heavenly reward. But he will long be remembered by the legacy that he left of serving others locally and across the nation. That day at Rotary he also left us with this thought:
“So, what do we learn from all of this?” he asked rhetorically. “Violence doesn’t work. Communication and dialog do.”
So, in the spirit of peace and racial harmony, I leave you with this Biblical scripture quote: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family,
and other matters of the heart.