"Brothers and sisters," I said, "there's another Baptist church that
needs our help."
"Tell us, Bubba," someone said.
"It's another church that has had a tragedy."
The congregation, my friends, nodded approvingly. I wasn't surprised.
These were goodhearted, charitable people. They weren't the type to
turn down fellow God-fearing folk in a time of need.
"Where is the church?" someone asked.
"You've heard of it," I said. "It's the sixteenth Street Church in
Birmingham where those four little girls were killed last Sunday and
the church was destroyed."
The blood drained from my friends' faces, the nodding stopped. The
members of the Pike Road Baptist Church quickly fell into two camps
- those who were angered by the suggestion and those who were too shocked
to be angry. I couldn't make out their whispers, but I could read their
I pulled out a check from my pocket. "I'm giving this to help the church
rebuild." I said. "I hope you all will either write a check of your
own or give what cash you can."
An old woman sitting in the back of the church stood up. "This ain't
none of your business, Morris, Jr." she said. "This ain't nothing we
want to get involved in."
The nodding began again.
I felt I had to go on. "I'd like for you all to join me in a little
prayer for the girls before we go to our classes," I said.
There was a deathly silence. "Please, won't you join me in a prayer?
We all have children of our own. No matter how you feel about - " My
words hit their frozen hearts and fell to the floor. Head bowed, I prayed
silently. Soon I heard a rustling and then some footsteps. I looked
up. Beverly stood beside me, and we prayed together.
We stayed up there at the front of the church…and stayed, nobody joining
us. I prayed, and when I finally looked up, just the two of use were
left in the sanctuary. Everyone else had left for Sunday school.
Years later Beverly would look back on this day and say, "That was
the beginning. You knew your life was going to change and you had to
go on with it."
This long excerpt from Morris Dees's autobiography was included for
a reason. Beverly was right. From this point, Morris's life was to change.
A few years earlier, he had a made a promise to a Freedom Rider. This
promise seemed long dormant. But with the tragedy that struck so close
to home, the promise arose deep from within and began to open its wings.
From this point in Morris's life, he chooses to get involved.
He doesn't go to see events out of curiosity as he had done before.
Since that promise, Morris Dees Sr. had passed away. In the fall of
1961, he was driving his new Mercury when his car skidded off U.S. 80
and hit a tree. Morris Dees Sr. died instantaneously and the greatest
influence in Morris Jr.'s life was gone. He cried for his father.