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Rev. Fred Dawson: Who Is This Man?
2/13/2014 12:51:06 PM

By Jim French

In a city and world seared by undiminished conflict of racial character and where reasonableness is constrused as betrayal of faith in the cause of justice, the Reverend Frederick Douglass Dawson stand as a giant tree weathering storms constantly raging around him. Though he will retire this week after 44 years without missing a service due to illness, this spiritual giant of human concern will still th irst for justice with determined dignity.

There sill is, in Fred Dawson, an innocence and eagerness in his manner, and although the struggle in behalf of his people has made him somewhat cynical, he is passionate and humorous in a Baptist preacher’s way. Despite his many years in the pulpit and on these mean streets, his is gainly, short on sight and fits into the conception of boyhood as if he hesitated on the frontier of manhood.

I have been accused by some of turning the reverend into a folk hero, and perhaps that is a flaw in me, but reporters tend to write about people of action and deeds, and he qualified for both. You don’t create a Fred Dawson, or mold him to be what you think he should be, only God has that power, and He mold Fred to perfection.

Always, when I come upon him, I know his first words will be about somebody in trouble who needs help. It never changes. Long as I have known him, there has never been a minister with more genuine joy in helping others. He is still excited about it. Yet, there is an innocence about Fred Dawson that should been withered by rebuffs from the same people he has attempted to help. But he is the person he wants to be, in good times and bad, and no other calling can change that. That’s good.

I vividly remember when the reverend was protesting the conviction of Ross Clayton Green for the killing of a county police officer that still makes some law enforcement people who had neither the strength of character or guts to publicly say the young man was innocent, but Dawson marched each weekend, mostly alone. On one Saturday morning as he began his journey among the tourists and shopkeepers, a TV-2 reporter asked where were the others and why he had not showed up to be with him. His response was quick and clear. “Complacency,” he said. I didn’t realize it but I was ashamed, not for Rev. Dawson, but for the people whose cause he was championing.

But you’re the Rev. Frederick Douglass Dawson from the bayous of Louisiana who doesn’t shift the blame. You’re patient and loyal, steady in a dignified way. This isn’t the first time you have been alone in the struggle. Didn’t you, or many-a-day under a broiling sun, protected by a straw-brimmed hat and moved by the spirit of God, protest for weeks on end, and alone most of the time in front of the Post & Courier building, for what you considered their maltreatment of Blacks in their editorial writings? You remember that, don’t you all?

There are some who have been flashier and talkative as long as the television cameras were rolling, but you’re not an entertainer who gets by with jokes. You don’t stage pantomimes to inform the community you’re displeased when people fail to stand and speak in their own behalf. You understand them, their fears and they understand you. Only the envious fail to understand and support you, members of the cloth who put you down as being radical, the same thing they called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You’re in good company. They wonder how you can cancel your grief. I often wonder myself.

You’re a Baptist minister, Fred Dawson, in a plain, unfettered way. You don’t declaim your opinions in Sunday morning sermons. Your protests are made in the open, everyday, out there where they can see and hear your cry for justice. You’re courteous with people who seek your help, and it seems everyone in trouble knows your number when they get jammed and no one else will listen. You’re a rare minister among many in a place where few can make that claim.

You appear to be inspired with a relentless persistence, as if every battle against racism is your last. You’re tall and lean in a peacock way, proud of what you do to arouse our people from their comotose state. But their unconcern doesn’t stop you. It didn’t stand in the way of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X or the countless Black men and women who often had to battle for a just cause alone.

Anyone who ever saw of talked with Rev. Dawson should remember him always. Listening to him explain when his young son was wounded during the Orangeburg Massacre when three S.C. State University students were killed fighting for justice; talking about the death of his lifelong companion and wife, the fire that gutted his home, his gradual losing of his sight, But this is the complete mad of God. There are no defects to discuss.

You, who respect him, will never forget him alone, many times, walking tall and proud in the rain to denounce the lack of Black employees at giant supermarkets and other chain stores...Appearing before city council or the county school board to address grievances no one else felt compelled to challenge...Doing what he had to when the time came...Standing up and providing his greatness every time there was a crisis...Opening his church doors to civil rights groups whenever they called...Visiting the sick to offer prayers and hope for their recovery...Apologizing to people when every avenue to help was exhausted...Begging for money to help someone in need...Winning sometimes with his presence alone bccause the other people respected him and choked up when he knew he was right.

No matter what Frederick Douglass Dawson does I’ll always remember...Eating beans and rice with him at Alice’s Restaurant...Walking down King St. with him and the delight he caused when people recognized him...Sitting with him at dozens of public meetings when he ached for lack of sleep...Agonizing with him when he was unable to help someone in need...Taking trips to other parts of the state to aid someone else’s cause...The botheration he felt when his wife worried about his activites in the streets...The put-down and curse words aimed at him at others when he questioned their allegiance to Black people..Receiving a personal call from Rev. Jesse Jackson to thank him for his support over the years as president as president of the Charleston County PUSH...Remembering Dawson never lied to me...Or broke his word...Or hurt anyone to make himself a bigger man. You don’t forget a man like this.

No man is small who does what he does with a minister’s purity. We all should be joyous because one of our species has dignity and fights off racism, which is mankind’s most ferocious enemy. The human race is measured by centuries but we live from day to night, all of us on our way to the grave, growing wiser but slower, leaving some of what we have behind as we struggle. We are all improved by the likes of a Rev. Dawson because he is our manhood too often forgotten by others of greater acclaim.

So there was Fred Dawson, fragile to the point of desperation, provoking the image of a man alone but crowded with the conviction that his cause was just. When a man feel thus endowed, one voice can speak for thousands. And the one voice that is loud and clear has been that of Rev. Dawson.

His presence is a manifestation of joy and such a man is unique in our time and should be cherished. The sound of freedom is precious and so is the sound of a great man having to struggle for it, even alone. Mercy


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