By Gary Cook
Gaston Oaks Baptist Church in Dallas is a remnant church of the historic Gaston Avenue Baptist Church. I came out of retirement to be the permanent part-time pastor at Gaston Oaks and am grateful I did.
I work alongside the pastors of three other congregations that are located at Gaston: the African Community Church, La Promesa Hispanic Church and the Karen Baptist Fellowship. I am having the time of my life in ministry.
Vicki Turner is my bright, vivacious and hard-working assistant. She is a strong woman, and she is African-American. She has been on the Gaston staff for almost 25 years.
Vicki and I shared our experience of both recently viewing the film “The Help.” We laughed again over the story line and the vivid characters it portrayed. She shared with me that her mother had been a “domestic” in Dallas while Vicki was a child.
I told Vicki about the world where I grew up, Oklahoma in the 1950s. My wife, Linda, grew up in Meridian, Miss. — about 90 miles from Jackson, where the story took place. I shared with Vicki how I had always been proud of Linda, who early in her life recognized the evil of racism.
Both Linda and I were pleased the film did not paint Mississippi as an evil place. Linda knew, and taught me, there were many good white people in Mississippi in that era. Some recognized the evil and spoke up, but others did not. If I am honest I know it was no different in Oklahoma.
The film beautifully portrayed the courage of those people and the growing recognition of others about needed change. Also with clarity, grace, and humor it portrayed the provincialism and the evil that so desperately needed to change.
As our conversation drew to a close, I did something I had never done before. I apologized to Vicki. “Vicki, I am profoundly sorry for what my people did to your people so long ago,” I told her. “Also, I am so glad I have lived to see a world of change among the attitudes of white people.”
Vicki confessed she has not seen as much change as I have, and that is not surprising given our different perspectives. She added, “When I first started to work in the Gaston church office some people were a little dubious about a black staff member.” Then she said “that was OK, because they soon learned what a great person I am.”
Her words were punctuated by her wonderful laugh. “We better learn to love each other before we all get to heaven,” she said, still laughing.
It has been suggested in recent years that Americans need to still be having a conversation about race. “The Help” is a great way to stimulate that conversation.