Alaskans Commemorate MLK Jr. Day
Pastor recalls struggles of civil rights movement
More than 48 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared with the world a dream. Realizing that dream has taken decades and the dedication of people like long-time Alaskan David Fison, a Methodist pastor who stood tall more than 54 years ago against the ugliness of racial injustice and won.
It’s a struggle we in the 21st century may never fully understand. Pastor Fison worked in a segregated church in Chicago back in 1957 when black families moved into white neighborhoods and violence ensued. Despite threats, the pastor didn't hesitate to do what was right. “I encourage my own children to accept all people,” said Pastor Fison, who has been preaching this message his whole life: a message that everyone regardless of color should be treated the same. It's a message that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived and died for.
Pastor Fison has stories of perseverance himself from the 1950s. “We had these aerial bombs go off every night to intimidate the people.” Black families were moving in and a group of white residents told Fison he'd get a new church on one condition. “I said, what do you mean political situation, if you will not befriend the Black people, if you will not invite them to church or anything, that's all we asking you to do.”
“We're not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful,” said Fison. “I told them as pastor of the community, everybody is welcome, and I’m obligated to minister to anybody who wants to be apart of our congregation… So that didn't sit too well with them. As more Black families went to the church, critics made their views known. We did have windows broken out occasionally and tires cut and things of that sort in retaliation.”
Pastor Fison and his family were evicted from their home but he still tried to do the right thing. A Life magazine photo shows him escorting Black students back and forth to the church. “Here the vigilantes are and I’m walking down the street going to be walking right through them and I said good evening gentlemen,” said Fison. The pastor's persistence paid off. A new church was built and the demonstrators packed up. “No more bombs,” said Fison.” Decades later, Fison's civil rights struggle continues because he's a living lesson here in Alaska where he is the Pastor Emeritus at Saint John United Methodist Church.
“David is one of the giants of the past,” said Pastor Peter Perry, who is the Senior Pastor at Saint John United Methodist Church. “God calls us to come together to see beyond the boundaries we artificially create whether it be skin color or anything else.”
The witness of people like David Fison and others inspires us still today and always will. Bernard King and his family were the first black people to attend Fison's church in Chicago. King, who's not related to Dr. Martin Luther King, ended up becoming a pastor himself. Dr. Bernard King ended up becoming the superintendent of the same Chicago district in which he was first banned from living in.