Friday, July 7, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1569: The profound impact of people in our lives

  Her name was Margaret Montgomery. We students called her Peg Montgomery behind her back. She was also our Humanities teacher at Talladega College more than 50 years ago. She was white and female. She impacted my life in profound ways. I never told her how much I appreciated the ways she helped me.

  I remember the first time we connected. It was in September of 1963. I had been on the Talladega College campus just a few days. We had been discussing the importance of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington in her Humanities class. That’s where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Then she said that she wished the marchers had done just one thing more. She asked if anyone could guess what it was. I looked around waiting for others to speak. No one raised a hand or spoke. I raised my hand, and she called on me. I said, “You wished the marchers had picked up all the trash from the march.” She said, “That’s right.” From that moment on she took a special interest in me and helped in so many ways.

  Ms. Margaret Montgomery insisted that I participate in some of the campus plays. I didn’t want to because I was very shy. I did because she urged me. It helped me to manage my deep shyness. I needed to overcome shyness to be successful as a student lawyer, public speaker and state senator.

  At the end of my freshman school year, Ms. Montgomery sent for me. She said, “Sanders, I will see you in the fall.” I said, “I doubt it.” I explained that it took me three years to save enough money to go to college just one year and I did not have any more money. I did not even think about the fact that when I was first admitted to Talladega College, they sent me a letter suggesting that I apply for financial aid. In my naïveté, I had written back informing them that I had saved my money and didn’t need financial aid. My money ran out before the first semester ended. She just said, “I will see you in the fall.”

  A few weeks later, I received a letter from Talladega College informing me that I was the recipient of the Catherine Waddell Award. This was a full scholarship that included room and board. It went to the “student who contributed the most to Talladega College the previous year.” I certainly did not qualify as that student.

  My sophomore year, I was assigned a freshman roommate who was blind. His name was Julius McCants. I had to help him get to and from the dorm, class and other places. Julius could type as fast as a person could dictate. He could pick up any musical tune. He could even tell what number I dialed on the pay phone by the sounds. He was very intelligent and very capable. The experience helped me to understand that blind people and others with handicaps were not handicapped people but people with disabilities. I perceived Ms. Margaret Montgomery’s hand in all this, but I never told her how much I appreciated the ways she helped me.

  At the end of my sophomore year, I was awarded a summer school scholarship with room and board and travel at Harvard University. I had not applied. It was Ms. Montgomery moving in my life. For my junior year, I was awarded the Old South Church Scholarship to spend a year at Boston University. This scholarship paid tuition, room, board, travel and spending money. I had not applied.

  In my senior year, I applied to Harvard Law School. I did not apply to any other law schools in spite of repeated urgings by Ms. Margaret Montgomery. I listed her as my number one reference. I did have good grades at Talladega and a good law school Admission Test Score (LSAT). I also had done well at Harvard Summer School and Boston University. However, I was trying to get into Harvard Law School! A few weeks after I submitted my application, I received a letter of admission to Harvard Law School. I also received a letter with a full scholarship from Notre Dame Law School. I had not applied to Notre Dame. A month after the Harvard admission letter, I received another letter from Harvard awarding me the “Felix Frankfurter Scholarship for poor young men who show great promise.” I never told Ms. Margaret Montgomery how much I appreciated the many ways she helped me.

  I know that Ms. Margaret Montgomery did not have any influence at Harvard Law School, but I can only imagine the recommendation she wrote. She knew my background as the second of 13 children born and raised amidst great poverty and suffocating racism. I am certain that she told them how poor (po) I was. I saw her hand moving in this situation.

  I did not even know when Ms. Montgomery died. I am truly sorry that I did not properly say “thank you” to her. I hope she is looking down from Heaven and reading this Sketches. I am going to read it out loud so she can hear as well as read it. Thank you, Ms. Margaret Montgomery. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

EPILOGUE – People touch our lives every day. Sometimes we don’t realize the full impact until years later. Sometimes we never realize the full impact. Therefore, we must be thankful for each person who impacts our lives.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

No comments:

Post a Comment