Learning by Example

Children learn by example.  Seeing a Christian actually take action based on her belief is a powerful life lesson.

In 1953 my mother was the choir director at the First Baptist Church in Iowa Park, Texas, a small farming town near Wichita Falls. She was also completing her music education degree at Midwestern University and like most young families we needed the extra income of her choir director job.  

In one of her music classes at the college she became friends with a young African American woman who had an extraordinarily lovely voice.  Mom had invited her to sing a solo at church and they had rehearsed several times in our living room.  

The civil rights movement as we know it was yet to come, and this was an all-white church in a small Texas town.  Racial segregation was the norm. No doubt it took great courage for that young black woman to accept the invitation to sing!  Cultural attitudes toward blacks out there on the north Texas prairie were, in my observation, never as extreme as in the deep South, and the black woman's lovely solo was politely received that Sunday morning.  She may have been the first black woman to attend a service there and was very likely the first to sing a solo! 

However, the pastor and evidently some of the congregation were not pleased at this breach of protocol.  The pastor scolded Mom and told her never to do it again.  But Mom, something of a crusader by nature, was determined to make her point that racial bias was wrong and the church of all places should welcome everyone regardless of skin color.  Now defiant, despite the pastor's warning, she invited the black woman back to sing another solo. Mom was fired.  

As a small child I remembered the dinner table conversations and Mom’s stubborn refusal to compromise her belief, knowing the consequence.

She was a courageous Christian. 

Perhaps it was that episode that prompted my defense of a fellow black Airman two decades later. It was during a formal equipment inspection and I'd just witnessed the squad leader, a bigoted bully, who was conducting the inspection, tamper with the black man's equipment and then accuse him of failing to follow instructions! The infraction would have resulted in disciplinary action.  The example my mom had set in my childhood must have come awake in my subconscious and before I could stop to think about it (one of the unspoken rules of survival in boot camp is to keep a low profile) I called out the squad leader and he backed off. I relate this incident not to boast--it was a relatively insignificant thing I did-- but as an example of the powerful and lifelong impact on a child witnessing a Christian acting on her conviction. 

Keith Garrison
Retired, Public Relations/State Government Agency Director
Second Baptist Church, Little Rock
Resides in Little Rock