On Monday, an annual Ward 8 tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. paraded along the southeast D.C. avenue named for him, but for Pastor Angeloyd Fenrick, who helped plan the event, her remembrance of the late civil rights titan goes much deeper than such tributes.
Fenrick, a 75-year-old native of Mobile, Alabama, experienced the civil rights movement firsthand as a child. She can recall meeting King as he and others orchestrated the famous Montgomery bus boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks.
“There were no hotels for Black people to stay in, so we stayed from house to house,” Fenrick said. “We knew about the boycott and that evening we went Dr. Ralph Abernathy’s church where we met Dr. King, who spoke and told us: No one gets on the bus.”
The pastor now runs an 11-unit apartment building in the 3700 block of MLK Avenue, where she houses homeless men who have jobs. She said she received her calling to preach in 1990, but her passion for helping others began long before then.
In June 1956, Fenrick was with a group of young adults from Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Mobile who traveled to Montgomery for the Alabama State Baptist Sunlight Sunday School Convention, which put hundreds of children on the streets of Montgomery at the height of the boycott.
“I was very aware of what was going on as a teenager,” said Fenrick, who was 13 at the time. “We read the papers and talked about everything,”
As a child, Fenrick saw how people of color, including her family, were terrorized by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“They burned a cross in our yard,” she said of the white supremacist group.
She remembers losing the family car after her father had to park it and the family taking a segregated train to Evergreen, Alabama, because the KKK, known as “night riders,” were too “thick” on the road to travel.
But she also witnessed the courage and wit of men like her father, Liston Bolar, a plant worker by day who outsmarted the Klansmen by night even though their family had been a target.
“My father was a drum major for justice,” Fenrick said. “He taught me to fear no man.”
Fenrick said it was the strength of her parents that propelled her as the oldest of 12 children.
“My mother was burned over 75 percent of her body and laid in a hospital for six months,” she said. “She had to wait eight hours to get to the hospital and then finally a doctor treated her at home by simply changing her bandages. She was healed.”
Fenrick said at that time Martin Luther King Jr. was 25 and the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery and leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association that organized the bus boycott.
“They gave us our matching orders and the thing that impressed were how well they were organized,” Fenrick said. “We walked everywhere and they arranged for the older people to get rides. They told them where to stand and [gypsy cabs] would pick them up from the bus stop.”
Even though she was only 13, Fenrick said the courage displayed by her parents and other adults during the boycott has stayed with her for a lifetime.
“Children were not allowed to get into cars by themselves,” she said. “We walked in fear for our lives. We all had to pull together to protect our lives.”
Fenrick moved to D.C. in 1960 to attend Howard University and while her parents told her that she was in D.C. to get an education and not be an activist, she did both.
“I knew my destiny was out of Alabama,” said Fenrick, who entered Howard University with people such as Stokely Carmichael and $33 in her pocket. “I was at the 1963 March on Washington.”
Fenrick graduated from Howard, got married and continued her education, earning advance degrees in counseling from the Federal City College (now UDC) and the Howard University School of Divinity. For more than 20 years, she worked as a psychologist for the D.C. Public Schools system while working with the homeless.
“My call to preach has been centered around my ministry to homeless men,” said Fenrick, who founded Higher Ground Ministries in the 1990s and now works with Saving Souls Deliverance Ministry in the Lincoln Heights development in Northeast.
Today it is time for a new movement, but the church is not prepared, she said.
“People are trusting more in themselves instead of God,” she said. “I believe that the church doesn’t disciple today like they did back then. Jesus said, ‘go and make disciples.’ You can do anything if you rely on God.”