Monday marks the 89th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the firebrand Baptist minister from Atlanta who became the face of the civil rights movement.
King’s courage and defiance in the face of violence and injustice, coupled with the foundational principles of nonviolence resistance, empowered Wilmington’s Rev. Canon Lloyd Casson. The rector emeritus of the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew in Wilmington said King provided the inspiration he needed to stand up against civil and social injustice in Wilmington.
“I was an outspoken priest for justice, but there were many,” Casson said.
The Delaware native has been fighting for the rights of others ever since experiencing the sting of segregation firsthand. “I think my worst experience was when I was in in the Army,” he said. ” I’ll never forget that when I boarded the train in Wilmington, we got down to Washington, D.C., and I had to get off the train and go to the back where all the blacks were. In other words, from D.C. down, it was total segregation.”
Segregation wasn’t limited to transportation. It permeated every aspect of life. And as a minister of the Gospel, Casson was disheartened to find it was part of the religious structure too.
Casson, who grew up in Wilmington, belonged to St. Matthew, the black Episcopal church, but associated with the fellow white congregation at St. Andrew on occasion.
But change was on the horizon, and the wall of separation would soon be torn down. When the two churches united, Casson was there to witness it and help usher in a new era. “There were people here, some of whom are still around, who were really fighters for justice in this city. And I’m not talking about clergy. I’m talking about lay people,” he said.
Casson was the first rector of the combined congregation, now known as the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew.
As the country observes a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Casson acknowledged more work remains. Religious organizations are still very much involved in civil and social rights, he said.
And, at 82 years old, Casson is still on the front lines, and he’s not going to let anything stop him from working on achieving his mission.
“Where there is an injustice, that’s wrong,” he said. “I need to speak a voice for justice.”