By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on August 28, 2022
Most readers know that I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s and 60s. Many of the people I looked up to were community leaders who had criminal records in Alabama's local, state, and federal criminal justice systems.
My childhood church pastor, Sunday School teacher, and Baptist Training Union instructor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King had an extensive arrest record in Montgomery and elsewhere in the South. The state of Alabama indicted Dr. King on felony tax evasion charges.
In 1963, the FBI, which often collaborated with the Ku Klux Klan and local law enforcement agencies, tried to force Dr King into committing suicide before he traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. King ignored the Bureau and its misguided vindictiveness.
Rosa Parks was one of my mother's best friends. Ms. Parks visited our house quite often. My parents enjoyed her company. She was a very classy woman.
Ms. Parks had a criminal record, as well. Ms. Parks became a "criminal" when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white passenger. Photos of Ms. Parks being booked after her arrest and her mug shot are featured with this article.
My brother, Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., was Ms. Parks' heart surgeon. He, too, associated with many known "criminals," all of whom were arrested for protesting racial segregation and discrimination in American society and throughout Africa.
Levi, Jr. also developed personal relationships with Nelson Mandela and his second wife, Winnie. Mandela was a convicted felon who spent 27 years in South African prisons. Winnie Mandela was convicted of felony crimes, as well.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Maggie Bozeman, and Julia Wilder were also labeled as "criminals." I loved these "criminals." They had more courage than you can find in many women and men today.
In 1963, Hamer was arrested and brutally beaten by local police and jail trustees (at the direction of the police) for her spirited civil rights activism in Mississippi. In the early 1980s, Maggie Bozeman and Julia Wilder were imprisoned for simply registering blacks to vote in Pickens County, Alabama.
Joseph Cole was the SCLC Chapter president in Gadsden, Alabama. He became a "criminal" and was imprisoned in the early 1980s after his lawsuits desegregated the all-white Gadsden, Alabama fire, police, and civil service departments for the city.
Mr. Cole also fought and stopped the police killing of innocent, unarmed, young black men in Gadsden after the death of Collis Madden in 1978. Madden died in a hail of 40 to 50 bullets during a routine traffic stop by Gadsden police.
My list of "criminal" associates is long and distinguished. I felt privileged as a child and young adult to be in their midst. However, all of them were despised by the ruling class of their day. They all went to jail on trumped up charges.
Looking back on my life, it seems like I was inspired as a young man by the men and women who were viewed by white society in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s as "criminals," "trouble-makers," "outside agitators," and "thugs."
So be it!
All articles are shared on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this article, please click on these links to follow Donald Watkins: