While Woodie W. White was scrubbing pots and pans in the Paine College kitchen more than a half-century ago, a cook taught him a lesson he remembers today.
The cook was often the target of jests from students helping in the kitchen. One day when White, now a bishop, took the teasing too far, the cook reminded him that he should never speak ill of her or any person.
“You can’t speak to me like that because I am a child of God,” White recalled the cook sternly telling him.
The cook’s lesson can help bridge racial divisions and create a more equal and just society, White said Thursday at a service celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Our common ground is that we are children of God,” said White, a 1958 Paine College graduate and the keynote speaker at the service in Paine’s Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel.
The annual event was jointly sponsored by Paine, Georgia Regents University and Augusta Technical College. A choir with singers from the three colleges performed songs including Lift Every Voice and Sing and We Shall Overcome.
White was elected bishop in the United Methodist Church in 1984 and serves as bishop in residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He writes a letter to King each year on his birthday.
“Isn’t it strange that people who look so differently, whose skin is a different color, whose hair is a different texture, claim the same God?” White said. “When you claim God as father, you gain a whole lot of kinfolk … every now and then we need to step back and see our common ground.”
White told the students, faculty and community members who packed the
chapel that he was arrested for standing up for civil rights.
White was visiting a city, which he did not name, and tried to attend a service at a Methodist church. Standing at the door, ushers told him blacks were not allowed to worship in the church. When White refused to leave, police arrived and took him to jail.
Several years later, White was assigned to preach a service at that same church.
“Our common ground is that we know God gets the last answer. Truth always ultimately wins,” he said. “All of us have unconverted corners of our heart, but all of us are able to
bring some healing, some hope.”