Martin Luther King Jr. believed, “There comes a point when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor polite, nor popular” in order to let our consciences guide us.”
During the Nazi occupation of France in the 1940s, Dr. Adelaide Hautval observed German soldiers abusing a Jewish family. Hautval reprimanded the soldiers. “Don’t you see they are Jewish?” a soldier asked her. “So what? They are human beings like you and me,” Hautval replied. She was arrested and imprisoned.
Hautval was offered an opportunity to retract her words. She refused. “In that case, you will share their fate,” Hautval was told. A yellow star was pinned on her chest with the words, “Friend of the Jews.” Hautval continued to gently attend to the Jewish detainees who had dysentery and other ailments.
Hautval was moved to a prison where she befriended other French women who had been arrested for Resistance activities. The women were sent to Birkenau-Auschwitz concentration camp. Hautval was beaten when she tried to help another woman who had been assaulted by a guard.
Hautval was assigned medical duties. She risked her life by her refusal to participate in gruesome human experimentation conducted by Nazi doctors, and by stealing food and medicine for other inmates. She hid women with typhus so they wouldn’t be sent to gas chambers.
After the surviving French women were moved to Ravensbruck concentration camp, Hautval continued to save lives. When the Russian army liberated Ravensbruck, Hautval volunteered to remain there to care for sick and dying inmates.
After the war, Hautval was honored by Israel and France for her heroism. She became a school physician in a Paris suburb. Hautval testified at war crimes trials. She wrote a book about the Nazi medical experiments on inmates. Hautval died in 1988.
On Dec. 12, 1955, the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser published a letter from Juliette Hampton Morgan, a seventh-generation white Southerner and descendant of a Confederate general and a South Carolina governor, who wrote, “It is hard to imagine a soul so dead, a heart so hard, a vision so blinded and provincial as not to be moved with admiration at the quiet dignity, discipline, and dedication with which the Negroes have conducted their bus boycott. Their cause and their conduct have filled me with great sympathy, pride, humility and envy. I envy their unity, their good humor, their fortitude, and their willingness to suffer for great Christian and democratic principles.”
Morgan, a Montgomery city librarian, received threatening mail and phone calls. Rocks were thrown through her windows. Friends abandoned her. City officials demanded she be fired from her job. (Library trustees resisted such demands, citing Morgan’s right to express opinions in her letter to the editor.) The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on Morgan’s lawn.
On July 15, 1957, Morgan committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills.
The bus boycott ended when a federal court found Montgomery’s segregationist bus laws unconstitutional. On Dec. 21, 1956, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders boarded a Montgomery bus without having to go to the back of the bus.
Page 2 of 2 - In 2005, the Montgomery library’s central branch was renamed he Juliette Hampton Morgan Memorial Library.
King, whose heroic life and crusade against racism we celebrated on Jan. 21, believed, “There comes a point when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor polite, nor popular” in order to let our consciences guide us.”
Such a point arrived in the lives of Hautval and Morgan.
They, along with King and others who were not or are not afraid to do what is right, are in my thoughts and prayers as we listen to the theme song of the civil rights movement: “Deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”
Joel Freedman of Canandaigua is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.