Luster B. Allen
“We just need to do a better job of practicing more of what he preached.”
In 1939, Luster B. Allen was born in a two-bedroom shack in Farmhaven, Mississippi. Growing up in Farmhaven was different for African Americans. There were few rights and limited freedoms.
Allen’s parents worked as sharecroppers on the land of a man who owned thousands of acres. In Allen’s early days, sharecropping was the only form of work he could get. He picked cotton from sunrise until sunset every day.
“It was hard work, and a lot of work,” Allen said. “We did all the work, while he (the landowner) did nothing. In the end, he got more than half of the profit and produce we earned. There were consequences if we did not agree with his terms. Those consequences were life or death. I worked for 75 cents a day. In a way it was like slavery, but I look back and know that it was just the way of life.”
When Allen was 17, his family moved to Canton, Mississippi. He found his first job in Canton “hauling pulpwood for a local timber company.” Following his job with the timber company, Allen moved on to another job at a fertilizer plant.
“We were creating fertilizer for farmers all around the South,” he said. “It was a tough job involving a lot of powerful chemicals. I did not like being inside a factory.”
Allen eventually left the fertilizer plant to work for an oil company in Canton. The job enabled him to travel around the state maintaining the drilling component of a machine that dug new oil wells. The drill bit would become hot as it dug thousands of feet into the ground. Allen’s job was to bring a substance he referred to as “mud” or “gel” that he pumped down into the ground to help cool the drill as it heated from friction.
Allen later worked for the Mississippi Department of Transportation and began to use a lot of heavy machinery during this job. A lot of his time was spent “building bridges for interstate 55, salting bridges, and fixing current roads.”
“Working and having a job is my driving motivation,” he said. “Having a job gave me a reason to wake up and set goals for myself and family.”
John McClellan worked on I-55 with Allen. McClellan is younger than Allen and said he always admired his work ethic. He said Allen doesn’t settle for doing things the wrong way or the easy way.
“I always valued his ability to do things correctly,” he said. “He taught me a lot about using machinery and being a diligent worker. Although I was white, and he was black, we both saw the ability to do good in each other, so we treated each other as friends and work partners.”
Allen now sells firewood from the front yard of his home. He is friends with a man who cuts trees for a living. Allen allows this man to park his equipment on his property in exchange for the trees he cuts. Allen spends most of his days cutting, splitting, and arranging firewood to be sold.
Allen said he was living in his current house in Canton when the news spread of Martin Luther King’s assassination. It was very confusing at the time. He said there was “no need to call or talk to anyone, because everyone was watching it on the TV.”
“I had just gotten back from Chicago, and I was so glad because people were rioting and tearing things up,” he said. “I remember watching the TV, and all the channels were switching over to cover the story.
“I was in a different state of mind. I had not accepted Christ and looked at it in a physical way. I was prejudiced towards white folks, but this was the wrong way to do it.”
As an African American, Allen said it was “hard to have any hope for the black man” and many people felt this way following the assassination.
“African Americans saw hate, they saw violence, they burned things, and they stole things,” he said. “They saw it as an excuse to cause destruction, even though Martin Luther King rejected violence and stood for peace.”
Allen said King had a tremendous influence on the nation as a whole. He said King “spoke things like a prophet,” which helped him gain many followers, and King “changed people’s lifestyles and tone of speech.” Allen valued the way that King brought people together and allowed them to “view each other as equal human beings.”
Allen said grief was everywhere in America following King’s assassination. There was “a long period of grief that the United States had to deal with” after losing the hope King gave many people. He also believes the assassination should have helped many people understand the power of love.
“We should have learned a lot from this tragedy,” he said. “Many of us learned the power of peace and love, and many of us didn’t. Personally I learned how to see things differently. I learned to love a man because he is a man, regardless of his color. I learned to love.”
Allen has a strong belief that King was on a mission for God. He said it’s difficult to picture King living today because he believes that he performed God’s plan for him.
“I struggle to speculate how things would be different if King were alive today,” he said. “His time was up. He did what God led him to do. He delivered God’s message, and then it was time to leave.
“You can’t change what happened, or speculate how things would be different. But in his time when he was alive, King showed us how to view each other as equal humans. The only way to break racism is to come together and love.”
Allen said that the way of life back then was so different for African Americans, he “never thought he would see a black president.” He believes if King were alive today, he would continue to preach the same things.
“King would be very against all the violence, murdering, stealing, and raping,” he said. “He would still be traveling around living God’s word and teaching the Gospel.”
Allen thinks people can still use his teachings to become a unified, loving, peaceful country. “King’s dream is realized by everyone,” he said. “We just need to do a better job of practicing more of what he preached.”
Luster believes that continuing to talk about King’s dream will help it stay alive and relevant. He also thinks people should make personal changes if they want King’s dream to become a reality. They should “quit hating one another, and set examples of love.”
“He left us with something, and we should work with it,” he said.