1968 was a troubled year for race relations in the United States – in particular, April of 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.
In the two weeks following King’s murder, race riots broke out in Washington, DC, Chicago, Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, and Wilmington, Delaware. Rioters reached within two blocks of the White House, and President Johnston ordered thousands of federal troops into the streets to restore order.
The day of the King funeral, a white bus driver in San Francisco named Martin Whitted picked up four young men in a black ghetto called Hunters Point. Whitted had taken the run for a co-worker who wanted to take the day off to honour King’s memory. He was nearing the end of his run when he was robbed and shot by the youth.
Sniper fire prevented the police from getting to Whitted in time, and he was dead by the time he reached the hospital. Hunters Point, a black-dominated ghetto that had gone through riots just two years before, was ground zero of a powder-keg ready to explode. All the ingredients were in place. However, the fuse – ready to burn – was never lit. The widow of the slain bus driver responded with love, not hate.
Dixie Whitted took race out of the equation by declaring that her husband was killed for robbery, not because he was white. Working with her pastor at St. Mark’s Church, Ross Hidy, she set up a memorial fund in her husband’s name to benefit the youth of Hunters Point – the very place her husband had been murdered. Her extraordinary wish was reported in local newspapers, across the United States, and around the world.
Hundreds contributed to Martin’s fund, and the amount raised was in the thousands. At Dixie’s request, the youth of Hunters Point were asked to decide how the money should be spent, and they decided it should be used for scholarships to help some escape the ghetto through education.
Martin’s funeral service was filled to overflowing. Pastor Hidy said of Martin’s widow “We shall never know just what influence the words of Dixie Whitted had in the minds of people in the Bay area. But it well might be that our city owes to this quiet and soft-spoken saint of God a debt that might defy description.”
That influence went far beyond San Francisco. One black inmate wrote her a letter in which he said “I owe you a debt. You’ve never known me but in your way, by your deep understanding, the beauty of your refusal to hate… I’ll never again be able to hate collectively all white men.”
Dixie Whitted followed in the footsteps of her Saviour when she proved indifferent to the race of the men who had killed her beloved Martin. Jesus showed the woman at the well (John 4:4-26) great respect, despite her wanton lifestyle and the fact she was a Samaritan, not a Jew. We should all follow their example.