Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. at The Maltz Museum
On Sunday afternoon, January 8th, we went to the Maltz Museum to listen to Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., former pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and regional director of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s (MLK) Southern Christian Leadership Conference, being interviewed by Mr. Avery Friedman, an outstanding attorney who Ms. Ellen Rudolph, Executive Director of the Maltz Museum, called "a walking textbook on civil rights law" during her introduction. Ms. Rudolph went on to say that the issue of civil rights should be very important to all of us regardless of our ethnicity because "no one can ever be free until all are equal."
Due to some unexpected snow flurries that slowed down traffic, we were almost late to this event and were stunned to discover that so many people took an interest in hearing these two men that the venue was changed from the small theater to the larger lobby so more attendees could be included.
Mr. Friedman started off by asking Rev. Moss what Ms. Rosa Parks, Mr. Thurgood Marshall (before he became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 1967), Mr. Harry Belafonte, and Mr. Tony Bennett all have in common besides all being inductees in the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame. Rev. Moss smiled and recalled that they all participated in the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama in early 1965. He told of how, at that time, all four of them participated in an evening of "moral support and entertainment" in a building where the lights went out for a while which scared a lot of people (due to the threats they were getting) but did not dampen the spirits one iota.
This first question and answer established the inspirational mood for the rest of the program in which Rev. Moss, in response to the insightful and historically knowledgeable querying of Mr. Friedman, talked about such things as attending segregated elementary/high schools in LaGrange, GA and said that the experience did not make him angry but made him "determined"; obtaining a higher education at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA where he was greatly influenced by Dr. Benjamin Mays' teachings of using non-violence to combat injustice; his personal and professional relationships with MLK (who he had gotten to know in 1955) and other members of the King family; and matters he was involved in during the civil rights movement such as one that occurred in the fall of in 1960 when he and others had to work hard to stop MLK from sent to prison after he had been sentenced to four months on a chain gang for civil disobedience.
At the end of their conversation, Mr. Friedman offered a quote from MLK regarding the need for civil rights laws which was, "morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless."
On a lighter note, he then presented the first part of another quote aimed at Rev. Moss which was, "you can always tell a Morehouse man..." and Rev. Moss concluded this quote with "but not tell him much" and we all laughed and applauded.
Rev. Moss then asked Mr. Friedman what motivated him to change his planned career path from physician to attorney. Mr. Friedman recounted a happening that took place many years ago in which he took part in a march for open housing (even though at the time he wasn't quite sure what this was) along I-75 largely because a friend invited him and Ms. Mary Travers (of "Peter, Paul, and Mary") was one of the leaders. The end result was that for simply being there and/or in the company of African-Americans, Mr. Friedman got swatted in the back so hard by a baton swung by a law enforcement officer that he fell to the ground. Later he phoned his mother to tell her he no longer wanted to be Pre-med, but wanted to go to law school so he could "change the world" and, in our opinion, his activism has yielded excellent results and we believe that he made the right decision.
During the audience Q and A, we asked Rev. Moss if MLK ever talked about the struggles of people who had recently immigrated to the United States. Rev. Moss said that he could not recall an exact quote but believed that the project that MLK was working on at the time of his assassination which was the "poor people's campaign" would certainly have addressed the needs of the foreign-born.
Another person said that the current exhibit at the Maltz Museum titled "This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers from the Civil Rights Era" made him proud to be a professional photographer himself. Dr. Moss agreed that these photographer (who experienced danger themselves) were instrumental in documenting the civil rights struggle in the U.S. and sharing it with the rest of the world. He also credited such people as the teachers, legal experts and entertainers who played important roles in getting the information out.
Rev. Moss went on to say that anyone who sees injustice but does not actively protest/fight it is an accomplice in the act. There is no middle road here and he credited the late historian Mr. Howard Zinn for saying, "you can't be neutral on a moving train."
What's more, as Mr. Friedman eloquently stated, the civil rights struggle continues today as evidenced by such things as people of color receiving harsher sentences than white people do for similar crimes. He emphasized that just because civil rights laws may be in existence does not mean that they are properly administered. Rev. Moss was in full agreement with Mr. Friedman and went a step further when he noted that the U.S. Presidential election of 2016 was the first one that took place without the full protections guaranteed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 due to recent amendments. Rev. Moss said that each generation should rededicate itself to protecting what we already have and to building a more perfect union in the future; this is a generational struggle that is never over.
At the conclusion of the program, Rev. Moss said to the attendees that instead of choosing to to go to the "Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular" that was taking place downtown "you all honor us by being here today."
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC