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Fraser Smith's Essay: January 31, 2013
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January 31, 2013
The Rev. Vernon Dobson, long time pastor of Union Memorial Baptist Church and a founding member of the civil rights-era Goon Squad, died last weekend. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith remembers Pastor Dobson in his weekly essay.
He remembered the bad old days of segregation as he had lived them: “… the beautiful white coffee pot. You could go and order a cup of coffee but you couldn’t sit down. You had to stand outside and drink it. And the place was beautiful. It was immaculate for a boy, for a child, it was just a dream world.” Reverend Dobson would play an important part in changing the world he was born into.
Along with about a dozen other men, mostly ministers like himself, Dobson began marching and lobbying and speaking out against Jim Crow. These men were dismissed by the powers that be and by defenders of segregation. Just bunch of goons, it was said.
Dobson and the late Rev. Marion Bascom and others, including former Morgan professor Homer Favor, embraced “goon” as a badge of honor. They called themselves the Goon Squad. Dobson and Bascom and others counseled with Dr. Martin Luther King about the direction civil rights should take in the 1960s. Later, they helped organize a Washington-bound Baltimore contingent on the day of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dobson fretted in those days. Had he done enough? He seems never to have been satisfied with himself. But he started and maintained a number of community support programs at his church. Child care, housing, employment, shelter and drug treatment for men were among the efforts he sponsored.
His friend, Homer Favor, remembered him this week: “Vernon was a man of immense strength. One day we were walking through the marketplace. Big massive man. Bigger than I am now but he was young. He must have been like early 30s. And he said I want to thank you Reverend. Never got a chance to thank you. I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said I’ve been clean for x number of years, and tears streaming down his face. And he, he’d done that for so many.
The civil rights movement as a formal movement ebbed, but Vernon Dobson’s personal movement continued for most of his 89 years.
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