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Retired Minnesota minister recalls marching with MLK in Selma, taught him to 'care for all people equall

By Adrian Glass Moore From Selma to North Dakota Martin Luther King day stirs up memories It's not something that Jim Kloster talks a lot about. Then again, the retired Lutheran minister from rural Clearbrook, Minn., isn't known to talk much abou...

Jim Kloster
Fargo resident Jim Kloster participated in civil rights demonstrations with Martin Luther King in Selma, Ala., in 1965.David Samson / Forum News Service

By Adrian Glass Moore

From Selma to North Dakota Martin Luther King day stirs up memories

 It’s not something that Jim Kloster talks a lot about. Then again, the retired Lutheran minister from rural Clearbrook, Minn., isn’t known to talk much about himself.

So, it wasn’t until his son Colin, a U.S. history teacher at Fargo North High School, mentioned that the civil rights movement was on the day’s lesson plan that the elder Kloster asked, “Did I ever tell you about the time I went to Selma in ‘65 and met Martin Luther King?”

“And I just remember thinking, ‘No. I’ve been teaching history for 10 years, and you never told me this.’ “ Colin Kloster said recently with a laugh. “I wanted to hear it all.”

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At 33 years old, Jim Kloster was one of many clergymen who traveled to Selma, Ala., at a pivotal moment in the modern civil rights struggle.

He was there for just a few days – but that was long enough to march with King and experience first-hand the oppressive violence and racism.

“The animosity was so strong,” Kloster said in an interview at his south Fargo home. “A lot of civilians actually carried short clubs, and they were all around, so that was really, it was really quite dangerous.”

Despite the risk, he said, “it’s one of the times you look back and you say: ‘At least I showed something and did something significant that was so right.’ “

The experience profoundly shaped Kloster’s outlook, he said, imbuing in him a greater compassion and respect for all, regardless of superficial differences.

“That’s what I’ve tried to have in my ministry,” he said. “You care for all people equally.”

March to Montgomery

Kloster had been a student at the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission in Chicago for nearly a year when the violence of “Bloody Sunday” filled newspapers and televisions across the nation.

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On March 7, 1965, about 600 African Americans attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the racist system blocking them from registering to vote.

They made it only a few blocks, to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when Alabama state troopers drove them back with clubs and tear gas.

“The Negroes cried out as they crowded for protection, and the whites on the sideline whooped and cheered,” The New York Times reported on its front page the next day.

On March 8, King called on clergy to come to Selma to support the protests. So, Kloster and a dozen or so classmates got on a bus headed south. They arrived to cheers from local activists, and a black family invited Kloster to stay at their home.

King led a second attempt at a Selma-to-Birmingham march on the next day. Kloster held the hands of two local children as they walked toward the Edmund Pettis Bridge, where the marchers found state troopers again waiting.

“Dr. King asked for permission to pray, so he led our whole group in prayer,” Kloster recalled. “Then we all turned and walked back.”

The decision to turn back disappointed some of the marchers, but, in retrospect, King made the right choice as challenging the troopers would not have been wise, Kloster said.

The marchers eventually received federal court protection and a third, successful march began on March 21, growing to 25,000 people by the time it reached Montgomery four days later.

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By then, Kloster had already returned to Chicago, but not before taking part in another demonstration.

He recalls marching around Selma City Hall while holding hands with a white woman and a prominent black civil rights activist, Andrew Young, who went on to become a U.S. Congressman and then mayor of Atlanta.

For a white woman and a black man to walk together, hand in hand, was extremely taboo. As the three marched, Kloster, wearing his clergy collar, almost brushed up against a man wielding a club – a “very foolish” move, he recalled.

“And he raised the club like this,” Kloster said, lifting his right arm with his hand in a fist, “and he said, ‘Paint your face black.” The man then directed a racial slur at Kloster.

Kloster and his two partners didn’t respond – they just kept walking.

Five months after the successful march to Montgomery, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act banning discriminatory voter restrictions.

From Selma to North Dakota

After Kloster returned to Chicago, he finished his education at the Urban Training Center, then became a minister at the city’s Lakeview Lutheran Church.

He later moved to North Dakota to serve parishes in Leonard and Mandan. He moved to Fargo to work as a chaplain at the VA Hospital for 11 years before retiring.

When he first returned to Chicago from Selma, he gave lectures to different churches about what he’d seen. As time went on, he spoke about it less, but the memory persists.

Kloster still feels the impact of meeting King and hearing him speak at Browns Chapel in Selma.

What stood out about King was that “he didn’t pretend to be a perfect person,” Kloster said. “He admitted frailties and human flaws just like everybody else.”

The experience in Selma also instilled in Kloster a better understanding of racism in the U.S. and informs his take on recent protests against the treatment of African Americans by police officers.

“There’s some racism that’s still current and latent in our society,” he says.

He notices drastic differences between Selma and the recent protests, which have involved less violence and greater diversity, with larger numbers of whites joining the rallies.

“The consciousness of the American people were – were kind of educated, let’s say, during the ‘60s,” Kloster said. “We learned a lot.”

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