VIDEO: Civil Rights icon Dr. Virgil Wood on Juneteenth, BLM and more
Dr. Virgil Wood (center) stands between Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell (right) on the roof of a Boston public school in 1965. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell.

Houston is home to several hidden treasures, one of them being living legend and Civil Rights Movement icon Dr. Virgil Wood. An ordained Baptist minister as a teen, Wood served churches in multiple states for over 50 years. But it was his decade of work with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that won him acclaim.

Dr. Virgil Wood with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. circa 1965. Wood served alongside King for 10 years, as a member of the National Executive Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. (Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

Wood founded the Lynchburg (VA) Improvement Association, a local unit of MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He later headed the Massachusetts arm of the SCLC, coordinated the state of Virginia’s participation in the 1963 March on Washington and served with King as a member of the SCLC’s National Executive Board.

With degrees from Virginia Union University (1952) and Andover Newton Theological School (1973), Wood earned his Doctorate in Education from Harvard University, one of the institutions where he eventually taught.

Dr. Virgil Wood

Wood continued his activism over the decades in various ways, most recently applying his passion to the Beloved Community Initiative, which is described as a“Wisdom Exchange on the Jubilee, Beloved Community and Beloved Economy.”

The Defender asked Wood for his take on Juneteenth, race relations and other issues.


DR WOOD: I’d like to start by putting it in context. The context is called Jubilee. So, if you think about Juneteenth Jubilee, you see another opportunity that Blackfolks have for defining specifically who we are so that we don’t subsume ourselves under any other domain, including the white church. We are Afro Christendom. That’s the motherland and all of the diaspora. And when we get that together, we’re not against anybody else, we’ll help other people. But we’ve got to be the full story in our own storybook and not to be a footnote that we’ve allowed ourselves to become since 1965. So, Juneteenth is a good time to talk about what is the meaning of Juneteenth Jubilee.


DR. WOOD: I’m proud of the young people who are crying out of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ But listen, that assumes somebody doesn’t know Black lives matter. If it’s a question, that’s one thing. If it’s a declaration, it’s something else. I think it’s both a question and a declaration. And if you ever have to stop and ask other people whether you matter, then there’s some ambiguities there that we got to work out. And I want to work with the young leaders. That whole thing is falling apart, as you know right now, because they didn’t understand one thing, you don’t jump out and march first. You plan your strategy and you also give the people who have the power to do what you need, give them the opportunity to respond positively first. And if they don’t respond, then when you hit that thing, man, you know what part of it you’re hitting.


DR. WOOD: We’ve got to stop it in two places, on the front end of what is it that draws the police into our neighborhoods. And then we’ve got to heal that thing that allows them to think they can do it and be all right. We got to heal our people from putting themselves in the fire.


DR. WOOD: Voter suppression is not new and we shouldn’t be surprised at all. We’ve always dealt with voter suppression. But what we did do, we worked around the efforts to stop us. Don’t ask for your enemy to make your job easy.

The Black church is in kindergarten and we don’t know it. Historically speaking, we’re back in kindergarten. And we’ve got to figure out how do we come out of kindergarten now.

Dr. Virgil Wood


DR. WOOD: I love Kamala. I think she’s one of the best things that’s happened for us. She may well become our first Black president… it wasn’t Bill Clinton and it wasn’t Barack Obama. For the most part, all we’ve had is presidents who have been Ronald Reagan in one guise or another thing.


DR. WOOD: Educational inequality started when we desegregated wrongly in America. We should never have desegregated education below high school. There’s no such thing as educational inequality. It’s that we have given away the franchise on the education of our people. We had it, up to the Plessy vs. Ferguson. We had great education going on until we allowed them to fire those Black women teachers, fooling everybody. “Them teachers can’t do nothing.” And turning education over of Black and Brown boys and girls. At least 80% of them don’t even have a teacher who looks like them. Eighty percent. That’s a mismatch of the magnitude of great order. And I must say that what we’re calling “educational inequality” is what we created. We created this thing called a desegregation of education, and we should never have done that below high school. We put those children in the hands of people who not only didn’t know them, but don’t care about them, for the most part. There are some who care. But for the most part, and the kids know that. That’s why they’re surly and angry. Because they don’t have grandma in the classroom, or somebody like grandma teaching them.


DR. WOOD: Same thing, same thing. You’re good. Health starts with yourself. And then you’ll make the systems respond to what you need. We can do that. I’m tired of blaming everybody else for stuff that we could change. At least we can get started, and then we can make these systems conform to what we need as well as everybody else. Because you see, when we call out those disparities, don’t forget that there’s poor white people in the basement with poor Black folks. And there’s more poor white folks suffering all the stuff than poor Black folks. We’ve got to understand that it. Rather than class and race it’s as much caste. We’ve got to understand that. We have the resources in Black America to deal with the caste among Black people. We’ve got all of these churches. We must 40-50 mega churches in Houston. And all we can do for George Floyd is to hold a charade on his grave. You can see I’m kind of, I’m kind of, I’m kind of angry.

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...