Religion beat: Rev. Martin Luther King led, and Rev. Charles Nelson followed

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH
  • January 4, 2013 - 6:22 PM

Charles Nelson participated in the civil rights marches of the 1960s -- once getting arrested for protesting the widespread injustices against blacks at the time.

As a young minister, Nelson was greatly influenced by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Now 80, Nelson is recounting his experiences at a forum about King's significance on Jan. 20 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

"It was his language which helped to sort of clarify the issues more than anybody else," said Nelson. "It was poetic and had a kind of emotional depth to it. ... He also understood the real promise of democracy."

Houses of worship nationwide highlight King's service and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day annually, which this year is Jan. 21.

Nelson began his career as a co-pastor of Hollis Presbyterian Church, an interracial congregation in Queens, N.Y. While there, he responded to the National Council of Churches' call to civil rights advocacy in the Deep South.

In 1964, Nelson says he protested outside a courthouse in Hattiesburg, Miss., and was arrested along with eight or so other clergy members.

"They said they arrested us because we were preventing people from going in to pay their taxes," he said. "But we were trying to encourage people to go in and register to vote."

Nelson also participated in a King-led march in Selma, Ala., -- the leader's second march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. When Nelson returned to New York, he took part in marches encouraging racial integration of schools.

Following his work in the movement, Nelson taught sociology at a small college in Ohio before moving back to his native Twin Cities in 1997 to retire. He's a regular attendee at Plymouth church.

"How could you not respond?" said Nelson of his participation. "We felt very strongly America had seriously gotten off the tracks since the turn of the 20th century."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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