At 93, Fulton resident Jack McBride has spent his life pursuing civil rights and racial equity.
McBride was recognized this year for his long service to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. State Celebration Commission. He was a founding commissioner of the group, formed 1993 by the State of Missouri, and this year, he was named a commissioner emeritus.
"They sent me a houseplant — a big one," McBride said.
The houseplant, a towering schefflera, is proudly in the TV room at Presbyterian Manor, where McBride resides. Due to his age, McBride doesn't often make it to commission events, but his daughter Sherry McBride Brown remembers the annual celebration as an elegant affair.
"They'd wear tuxes and everything," Brown said.
McBride described the annual event as part celebration of King's legacy and part meeting to evaluate the state of civil rights in Missouri. The knowledge of how much work is left to do sometimes adds a solemn tone to the otherwise jubilant affair, he said.
That said, McBride has lived through some amazing advances in equity in his 93 years.
"(Before desegregation), if black children in Fulton wanted to go to high school, they had to ride a bus 24 miles to Jefferson City every day," he recalled. "I didn't go to high school, but my sisters and brothers did."
William Woods University and Westminster College were also closed to black youths at the time, he said. There was a separate "colored" bathroom in the courthouse's basement, and black folks had to go in the alley entrance at the local movie theater (now the Brick District Playhouse).
"What we did was try to fight segregation on the local level," said McBride, who is the longtime president (now president emeritus) of the Fulton NAACP chapter.
That sometimes included civil disobedience — such as the time McBride took his girlfriend to the movies and decided to go through the front door and sit on the main level.
This was shortly after McBride returned home from serving in the Navy during World War II.
"I was pretty raw," he said. "I'd fought for my country, but if I wanted to go to the movies with my girl, I was supposed to go in through the alley."
Several white moviegoers got up and left when McBride sat down, but he and his girlfriend stayed through the film, he remembered.
"We realized the view was better from the balcony anyway," he added with a laugh.
McBride has watched with pride as schools integrated and America elected its first black president in 2008.
"Today, civil rights laws have been passed, but they always need to be followed up on," he said. "There's a lot to do to ensure there are equal opportunities in jobs and schooling."
He encouraged today's youths to get involved in civil rights groups, including the NAACP.
"Get an education and use that education to promote equality opportunities for everyone," he added.