Sunday, June 09, 2002

McCrackin's spirit alive in West End

More than 500 attend festival

By Lew Moores,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Brian Garry had known the man since 1983, when Mr. Garry was a teen and the Rev. Maurice McCrackin was closing in on 80.

        “I used to read him his mail, his eyesight was going,” said Mr. Garry, who is now 37 and whose eyes began tearing. “He was hearing from people all over the world. He was so very loving. I considered him a spiritual master.”

        So did many of the more than 500 people who turned out Saturday afternoon at Laurel Park in the West End for the annual Rev. Maurice McCrackin Day Festival, a celebration of the spirit of Cincinnati's most prominent civil disobedient.

        The Rev. McCrackin died in 1997 at the age of 92.

        “I don't miss him because I keep him with me,” said John Henry Simmons of College Hill. “He keeps me going.”

        The Rev. McCrackin spent more than a half-century living among the poor and dispossessed in the West End, a man of ascetic tastes who lived simply but according to fierce convictions.

        He was arrested more than 20 times in acts of civil disobedience, protesting war, racism, homelessness, prison conditions, the death penalty and poverty.

[photo] Rev. Maurice McCrackin
(Enquirer file photo)
| ZOOM |
   • Born: Dec. 1, 1905, in Storms, Ohio, near Chillicothe.
    • Ordained a Presbyterian minister and arrives in Cincinnati in 1945 as pastor of Cincinnati-St. Barnabas Church in the West End.
    • Participates in his first public protest at the age of 43 in 1948 over the segregated Conservatory of Music.
    • Stops paying income taxes in 1949 because of U.S. defense spending.
    • Tried and convicted in federal court in 1958 for not paying taxes and is imprisoned in Allentown, Pa., until May 1959.
    • Suspended by the Presbytery of Cincinnati in 1962 and starts the Community Church of Cincinnati in the West End.
    • Retires as pastor of the Community Church in 1989.
    • Scales the White House fence in 1990 at the age of 85 to protest the Gulf War and is arrested for trespassing.
    • Honored on Dec. 7, 1997, at Xavier University with one of the school's highest and most prestigious awards, the St. Francis Xavier Medal.
    • Dies at age 92 on Dec. 30, 1997, in his sleep at Communicare Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Clifton.
        At age 85, he scaled the fence at the White House in 1990 to protest the Gulf War.

        “People talk about his successes,” said longtime friend Gordon Maham, 85, of Colerain Township. “I talk about his failures — failure to walk when he was arrested, failure to report to court when summoned, the failure of the White House fence to keep him out.”

        From noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, people attended “Mac” Day, listening to live music, reminiscences and picking up information from more than a dozen booths set up by political, educational, religious and social service organizations.

        “I want to keep Mac's work going, keep his vision alive,” said Mr. Garry, an organizer of Mac Day. “I think we had a void in leadership (in the peace and justice community) when he died. I don't know that we need a central leader, but Mac was a hub.”

        Sister Alice Gerdeman, coordinator of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Over-the-Rhine, agreed.

        “He was incredibly tolerant, someone who tried to bring all people together,” Sister Gerdeman said. “I think that's what this day does.”

        Judith Bechtel, a retired Northern Kentucky University professor who co-authored Mac's biography, Building the Beloved Community, published in 1991, said many people shared the Rev. McCrackin's beliefs, but “he combined that great commitment with that kindness. Even now you wonder, if he were still alive, what would Mac think of the war in Afghanistan, the boycott?”

        The Rev. Matthew Stephens, pastor of the Community Church of Cincinnati, which the Rev. McCrackin founded in 1962, said, “This is an extension of Mac and building the beloved community. This gathering is the beloved community.”

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