Dexter was built from bricks that were discarded when they were redoing Dexter Avenue. One might say, well “how did they handle the bricks?” Some of them were broken and so forth. Well, let me tell you, just like slave labor built the White House, they built this building.
I was here in ’53, the summer of ’53, after I had received my first degrees, my bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Cincinnati, then I went to Ohio State for my PhD. And when it came time looking for employment I was very much impressed by H. Council Trenholm who was the President of Alabama State University.
I liked it, so I decided to come down for the summer.
One of my friends at Ohio State told me that his aunt, worked in the administration and that I ought to look her up and she would probably show me around. On the first Sunday that I was in Montgomery she said, “Well, now since you are a Baptist, we’re going to take you to Dexter.” I came to Dexter to hear my first sermon by Vernon Johns.
Reverend Johns was a fire and brimstone preacher. But he was a very intellectual man and he had his eyes on the future. And he was letting us know that we of the Dexter congregation ought to play a bigger role in taking care of this whole matter of segregation.
When he left we had to find another pastor, and we interviewed a number of young men. But when Martin came. He gave a sermon and when he finished we said, “Well, there’s no sense in going any further.” He was our man.
One of the things that he wanted to do was to make sure that Dexter became more involved in the community: the Women’s Council was developed by his leadership. And I’m happy to say that two of my very good friends Mary Fair Burkes was the first President of the Women’s Council and Jo Ann Robinson was the second President.
Jo Ann came by my office and said, “Bryson, we’re going to make copies of this memo and pass it out asking everybody to stay off the buses for one day. We’re just tired of this kind of treatment. Martin, as I understand was oh maybe a little askance about a boycott because he had read that boycotts were only about, oh 60 or 65% effective.
However, after Jo Ann had passed out the memo, the next morning Coretta looked at the bus that went up and down Jackson Street, and it was empty. She called Martin to the window, and when the next bus came by it was empty as well. It’s something that was thought to be just for one day was a whole year.
The congregation was fully behind Martin and the whole idea of expressing our distaste at what had been going on. There was no question about that.
I want people to appreciate this church.
Just yesterday we had some visitors from New Zealand. Just about two weeks ago we had some visitors from Norway just about two weeks ago. So almost every Sunday Reverend Handy has the privilege of saying, “You have just made our congregation today international by your presence.” And we would want them to have the kind of appreciation and understanding of the fact that this congregation is for people. It’s for the community. We want to do whatever we can to make our city a better place to live. And as it has so happened, with Dexter the influence has spread throughout the world.