Today, Jan. 20, 1986, marks the first official nationwide
observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
on other federal holidays, city hall, schools, the library,
banks and other local public institutions are closed in its
the man whose birthday the nation commemorates lived a relatively
short time ago. Rev. King was 39 years old on April 4, 1968
when he was assassinated while standing on a motel balcony
in Memphis, Tennessee.
past weekend the News-Palladium talked with a Pana
minister, the Rev. Loren A. Windhorst of St. Johns United
Church of Christ, who recalls a brief encounter he had with
Dr. King on the late 1950s, a time just prior to Kings
emergence on the national scene as the leader in the Civil
a 23-year-old student at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster
Groves, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb, Windhorst heard Dr.
King as a guest speaker during a daily chapel service in the
spring of either 1958 or 1959.
not sure (of the date). Like I said I was a student at seminary.
We had many guest speakers that came to our chapel services.
was one of fifty students in the graduating class of 1960.
Kings appearance) was publicized so there were quite
a few people from the community who were also present on that
particular occasion. Anyone was invited to come and listen
to Dr. King speak.
just was a very dynamic person who seemed to certainly know
what he was talking about. He told about some of the injustices
in the South, specifically. And how the blacks were being
incidents Windhorst remembered Dr. King speak of were many
of the same stories so often told of the pre-Civil Rights
they were forced to sit at the back of the bus. He told about
how blacks could not get in a car and go from Alabama to Chicago
without taking (food) with them.
(blacks) were traveling in those days you just took a sack
lunch with you or some food in the car because you couldnt
be assured of stopping at a restaurant and being served. That
was also true of motels. Sometimes you would have to drive
overnight because you were refused a motel room. That was
part of the situation.
(King) felt this was unfair and because he did not feel this
was what Christ intended the way our society was to be, he
himself intended to do something about it and change it.
his speech, did Dr. King give any indications as to what he
intended to do in the future?
dont think he knew at that time what he was going to
do. I think because of his courage and because of his conviction,
I think he knew he was going to do something.
of us who were there and heard him speak at that time knew
he was going to do something about the situation.
was a very dynamic speaker and spoke with courage and conviction.
the chapel service, Windhorst was able to briefly meet and
shake hands with Dr. King.
stood in the hallway and greeted anybody
who came out
of chapel that morning. I didnt have a chance to talk
with him on a one-to-one basis, but Im glad about meeting
him and hearing him speak like that.
said he had heard very little of Dr. King before
the speaking engagement. However, Dr. King already enjoyed
a somewhat national prominence or otherwise he would not have
been invited to speak, Windhorst noted.
United Church of Christ has a good reputation of trying to
be aware of whats going on in the world. Our professor
said, You should read with a Bible in one hand and a
newspaper in the other kind of thing. Try to make
the Bible, Biblical truths, applicable to the society in which
he think Dr. King would go on to the future stature he achieved?
No. I was pleased later when, of course, he did become famous
that I had had the opportunity to hear him speak and to at
least shake his hand.
up in the southern Illinois town of Metropolis, Windhorst
said his first experiences with blacks came during his high
school years with black students when the local high school
for blacks closed. Later, he lived in college dormitories
that admitted blacks at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
They were also in his seminary class.
can understand why somebody could get some strong courageous
feelings like this and want to do something.
fact, I have said from the pulpit here in Pana, I have told
the story when I was a student at Southern Illinois University,
they wanted something other than student food at the campus
cafeteria, Windhorst and three friends, one white and two
black, went to three restaurants in Carbondale in 1956. None
would serve the entire group.
one, they were met at the door and told that they would not
be served because of the two blacks. At the next, the owner
said he would serve the two whites and put the food for the
blacks outside the back door.
we went at a third restaurant and we sat and sat and nobody
would come and wait on us. It was obvious the waitresses had
time to wait on us but they wouldnt. So we all four
got up and went to our car. We were going to go back to the
campus and eat at the dining hall there so we could eat together.
still remember to this day the waitress coming out to our
car. She put her hands on the car door. With tears in her
eyes she said, I really wanted to serve you guys your
meals. But my boss told me that if I waited on you
specifically the Negroes that I was to come and pick
up my check and go home. I just wanted you to know that I
dont like it, but thats the way it is.
in the Pana-News Palladium (Pana, IL), Jan. 20, 1986.