“There is a man.”
Those words were repeated several times Tuesday by one of the many speakers at the Rev. Harry Givens’ funeral.
The longtime pastor of Unity Missionary Baptist Church passed away last week at the age of 87. On Tuesday, that same speaker told the large crowd of people who gathered at Calvary Baptist Church that he used to tell young people who were looking for an adult to emulate that they should look no further than Harry Givens.
“There is a man!” the speaker said.
I can’t remember the first time I met Harry Givens. I do know that it was in the 1980s and that I was working as a reporter for a local TV station. But that exact meeting is lost to time.
See, Harry Givens was one of the people who was always around, who was always involved, always busy, always trying to help others and make Joplin a better place for everyone.
In addition to his heavy workload as a church pastor, Harry spent countless hours trying to place families in affordable homes as a member of the Community Housing Resource Board. He was a strong advocate of senior citizens, and a longtime board member and volunteer at the Joplin Association for the Blind.
There is a man.
But there was another side to Harry Givens, a side that not a lot of people knew about. I didn’t know about it until a chance conversation I had with Harry about a decade ago. I was doing a feature story about the Fourth of July and how a cross section of older area residents remembered celebrating the holiday. Harry was one of the people I interviewed.
It was during that interview that Harry mentioned that he served as a member of the U.S. Marines during World War II. Harry said he was one of the first 1,000 black men to be allowed to join the Marines. I remember that Harry said that the abuse he suffered as a Marine recruit at the hands of white Marines was worse than anything he had to endure during the war.
I remember that Harry didn’t say that in an angry way or in a way to somehow shock me. He just said it like he might say, “It was hot in South Carolina in the summer.”
Harry survived a brutal boot camp experience and eventually was shipped to the South Pacific, where he and his fellow black Marines supplied ammunition to the front lines in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.
There is a man.
Harry was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned to the segregated civilian world that he left in 1944. He found out that service to your country — no matter how honorable it was — didn’t change the fact that he was a black man in a white world.
But slowly — painfully slowly for the folks who lived through them — times changed. Things got better. Not great, and certainly not perfect, but better.
After the war, Harry worked for a number of years as a railroad porter and then moved back to his hometown of Lebanon, where he owned and operated a successful janitorial company. In 1974, Harry moved to Joplin to become the pastor of Unity Missionary Baptist Church. He would continue as the church pastor until ill health forced him to retire on Feb. 5, 2012.
There is a man.
On Nov. 2, 2012, Harry Givens was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service as one of the original Montford Point Marines, the name given to that first group of black Marine recruits. The medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor given by Congress, was awarded collectively to the Montford Point Marines via a joint U.S. House and Senate resolution. Harry Givens received his medal in a special ceremony held at Spring River Christian Village.
Harry accepted his medal with pride, with dignity and with graciousness.
And perhaps most importantly, without bitterness.
There is a man.
DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.
“There is a man.”
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