The last time I was in Memphis I drove past this building and took this snapshot. It holds so many memories. From the time I was in grade school until college, I remember standing on the front lawn of this building, Mason Temple, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, during our Holy Convocation held every November. The “saints” gathered from all over the world. I huddled between my parents and their friends from Chicago, St. Louis, and all over the midwest. It was like one big homecoming!
My family anticipated this trip every year. We piled into our station wagon, packed out Sunday best outfits, and drove from Central Illinois to Tennessee. We could hardly wait to hear all the good preaching, the fiery evangelists, and Holy Ghost-filled gospel singers and choirs that were absolutely electrifying. I was excited to see the preacher wives dressed in their finest dresses, suits, and hats… oh my, the hats! This was the highlight of our year!
Thousands of African American church folks poured into Memphis. My family and scores of others had to find lodging in homes because the hotels were not fully integrated, if at all. Mind you, this was mid-60s. Years later, the hotels would become more welcoming to our large denomination and Blacks could book rooms.
I remember stepping inside the vestibule of Mason Temple and reverently passing the crypt where the founder, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, was laid to rest. The auditorium’s capacity was well over 4,000 or so, probably more, as people overflowed into the outer hallways, other assembly rooms, and the perimeter of the building; there had to have been over 10,000 on grounds. I marveled at the loud speakers mounted everywhere so that no matter where we went on the grounds the music and preaching could be heard. Even at a young age, I sensed that this was indeed a holy gathering, and it gave me an immense sense of community. These were my people!
It was years later in my adult life that I realized that Mason Temple was where Dr. King gave his last “Mountaintop” speech the night before his assassination. The Black sanitation workers had summoned Dr. King to Memphis in April 1968 in the height of the Civil Rights struggles. Mason Temple was often used for planning meetings.
I was in and around this building so many times over the years and had roamed the grounds of Mason Temple and my lived experience had been interwoven and criss-crossed through this historical setting as history was being made. I was raised, nurtured, and given a solid foundation in the safe spaces of my spiritual community during treacherous times. We kept the faith when so many other places, even religious ones, in our society were not welcoming. We knew our sacred worth as children of God.
Today, as a Unity minister, I celebrate and commemorate the life, work, and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thank you, Coretta Scott King and all those who made sure the dream continued at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
I invite you to join me in pledging to continue working to build the Beloved Community so that that we all may experience the love, joy, liberty, and justice for which we were created. I believe non-violence and love are the most powerful tools that can shape our path forward in today’s world. “Deep in my heart, I do believe!” Peace and blessings to all.
Love and joy,
Rev. Dinah Chapman
Favorite MLK Quotes: