Tuesday, January 21, 2014
“It was professors like Dean Walter Muelder who intentionally sought out African American students from the South to train them for the Civil Rights challenges that were to come. During his tenure at Boston University, Dean Muelder was responsible for the training of more African American PhD students than any single university in the country. One of those was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” — David Felton
The picture at the right is of Marsh Chapel where I preached on more than one occasion in my four years at the Boston University School of Theology where Martin Luther King, Jr. received his Ph.D. I attended a service there in April of 2013 when I was named a distinguished alumnus of the school. It was also where I was graduated and the man putting my hood over my head and onto my shoulders was former dean Dr. Walter Muelder, who had also been Dr. King’s professor of social ethics as he had been mine. He was a friend to us both and Dr. King has given him credit as the source for his stance of non-violence in Dr. King’s book “Stride Toward Freedom.” I never met Dr. King personally. The closest I ever came was about three hundred yards away at a kneel-in in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1963. Little did I know that twenty-five years later, I would share the same professor of social ethics at Boston University. Dr. Muelder was not only a professor, he was also a close friend. He was in his last years when I knew him, suffering from pancreatic cancer which finally killed him in 2004. I once asked him if he was afraid of dying. He said he had never feared death, but he did fear the process. We would frequently have coffee together in a little cafe across from the School of Theology where we would solve the world’s problems and attempt to deal with our own. He was very candid with me about his personal sufferings and that gave me the strength to deal with my own that were to come. He was a kindly and gentle man who was always a little upset that the word “Christian” ever had to be used as an adjective for pacifist. As far as he was concerned, to be Christian was to be a pacifist as Christ explained it and lived it. He could never conceive of Christ ever sanctioning or condoning the taking of any human life under any circumstances. He was very passionate in his belief that love would truly conquer all and convinced Dr. King that violence was never the answer. I believe that Nelson Mandala would have liked Walter Muelder as Mr. Mandela espoused many of Muelder's beliefs although he never knew or met him. Dr. Muelder had been controversial as a Dean, sometimes known as the “Red Dean,” during the McCarthy era because of his stance against violence. It was an honor to have been called a friend by him and to call him a friend. I will never forget him and every year as the nation remembers Dr. King, I remember Dr. Muelder. I hope I carry his gentleness and love for every human inside me for it drives my ministry here in Africa. I have known many men from Texas, to Los Angeles, to Boston, to Arkansas, and now to Africa. Only a few, would I ever classify as a truly good man (in Swahili, mtu kweli), but Dr. Walter Muelder was just such a man. I am proud to have known him.