Beadenkopf recalls ‘singing with angels,’ hearing King

Published 11:06 pm Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NILES – Brenda Walker Beadenkopf remembers holding a stranger’s hand during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963.

A white, 15-year-old girl, Beadenkopf gripped the black man’s trembling hand as he shook with exultation while loudly singing to anthems that championed civil rights: “We Shall Overcome,” “A Change is Gonna Come” and “We Shall not be Moved.”

“We were really singing with the angels,” she said. “We were asked to line up along the street — black, white, black, white.”

Beadenkopf remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his powerful message and speaking ability.

“He was telling these people to be co-workers with God,” she said.

“There was not to be an iota of violence, and there wasn’t.”

Beadenkopf, now a resident of Niles, is the daughter of Quaker activist Charles Walker, who alongside King helped organize the civil rights movement. She is currently writing a book about her father, who was a trainer and recruiter for the Freedom Rides and sit-ins and a staff member of the Mississippi Freedom Summer and Kent State projects.

Beadenkopf spoke at a meeting of the Niles Branch NAAP Tuesday night at Niles District Library. The presentation was part of the group’s recognition of Black History Month.

Beadenkopf chronicled her father’s work, which began when he was a college student in Pennsylviania, and part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a peace organization dedicated to non-violent resolution.

Walker helped organize a speech given by A.J. Muste of FOR at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa. King was in attendance, and was inspired by Muste’s message about non-violence promoted by Mahatma Gandhi.

The idea of non-violence was the basis of the civil rights movement, and King followed it diligently.

“Pacifism is not ‘passive-ism,’” Beadenkopf said. King said non-violence was not a “do nothing” method, only in the physical sense.

“Many people believe non-violence is a weapon of the weak,” she said. “Martin Luther King (Jr.) said that non-violence is the sword that heals.”

Walker worked alongside King in the civil rights movement, and penned a handbook called “Organizing for Non-Violent Direct Action.”

“This handbook was the very first of its kind, and it was very widely distributed in the South,” Beadenkopf said.

Beadenkopf explained that early in the civil rights movement, in the 1940s, members of the group Congress of Racial Equality would test segregation in restaurants and other facilities. For example, she said, they would send in a group of white people to a roller rink, and they would all be allowed in.

A group of black people and white people would be sent in, and they would be denied, the staff claiming they needed a membership.

“It was a test, and it often helped break down their excuses,” she said.

After King was killed in 1968, “the movement just split apart,” Beadenkopf said. “So there was this big black power movement in the ’70s. My dad really mourned the breakup of the civil rights movement.”

Members and guests of the Niles Branch NAACP also participated during the meeting in role-playing games, like a lunch counter sit-in.

People recalled the days of segregation in Chicago and even in Niles years ago, when movie theaters had “black nights” and blacks weren’t permitted in some restaurants.

Niles Branch NAACP, founded in 1942, serves Niles, Buchanan, Cassopolis, Calvin Center and Vandalia.

They meet the third Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Niles library, 620 E. Main St.