A Long Road

Published 9:46 am Friday, November 7, 2008

BURLINGTON — It was 1955 in Montgomery, Ala., and Douglas Carter had just come back from Korea. He took a Greyhound bus to go down to the Army base in Florida where he was to finish up the rest of his tour.

There in Alabama he almost made a fatal mistake. Getting on the bus, he grabbed the first seat he saw. That seat was next to a white woman. In a split second a man in a bib overall rushed up to Carter and slapped him the face.

“You get to the back of the bus,” the man screamed.

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“I wanted to hit him,” Carter recalled. “But I thought if you hit this guy, you will never see your wife and babies. Here I was in full dress uniform and had come home fighting and couldn’t sit down. In Florida, I couldn’t take my children to get an ice cream cone.”

That’s why Tuesday night when Barack Obama was declared the first black president in this country it was a moment unlike any other for Carter.

“I never thought it would happen,” the pastor of First Baptist Church of Burlington said. “It was one of the greatest moves for the United States of

America that has ever happened. It moved every nation to know we have come together. That we have surpassed some of these evils. This is not for African-Americans. It is for humanity.

“He has stepped into a bucket of mud. The country is in a mess spiritually, financially, every way. Still we are the greatest country in the world. I believe he is a man concerned about the nation and not just people. I think the man is very well-educated and prepared to do the job.”

As Carter prepares to mark his 37th anniversary as the leader of the Burlington church this weekend, he took time to reflect on the changes he has seen in the race relations in this country.

Carter was 42 when he was called to the ministry when he was under the pastorate of the Rev. Henry Fletcher at Mt. Olive Baptist in Ironton, the church where he was ordained. A graduate of Tri-State Bible College, Carter received his honorary doctorate of divinity in 2001 from Faith Baptist College in Dayton.

Fletcher, too, found the Obama win joyous for African-Americans.

“Tuesday night was a dream come true. I didn’t think it would ever happen in my lifetime. But I prayed,” he said. “It was a time of rejoicing and looking forward to something good happening.”

Fletcher admits that he had no idea his one-time parishioner was considering the ministry, but has seen Carter’s tenure as one marked with great accomplishment.

“He is successful because he puts Christ first in his life,” Fletcher said. “He is not a person who is easily persuaded. His persuasion is to stay in his local church.”

It is through living his Christian faith that Carter has been able to face the acts of bigotry that have crossed his path. He can see the election of Obama as one of the signs that such prejudice is diminishing. A new generation will speed the transformation, he believes.

“The college students, these young people, they look beyond the skin,” Carter said.

One place that has always proved a refuge for the pastor has been his hometown of Ironton.

“Thanks be to God I was raised in a city where I could go to school with anybody,” Carter said. “Thanks to God for Ironton. The Ironton School System has never been segregated.”

When Carter came to the Burlington church in 1971, he had no idea he would be there almost four decades later.

“I had many lucrative offers to go other places,” Carter said. “God sent me here and never discharged me.”

Along with pastoring his church, Carter built a career at Armco Inc., in Ashland, Ky., where he retired in 1988.

“I started as a janitor, of course,” he said. “But I rose to be a supervisor.”

When asked why it has taken more than 200 years for the United States to choose an African American as its leader, Carter falls back on his faith for the answer.

“God has his own time,” he said. “As we said Martin Luther King is the Moses. This young man is the Joshua. Moses led them to the Promised Land, but he couldn’t go in. But Joshua took them the whole way.”