Spiritual Witness Theme of
NBC-TV 'Lifetime of Sharing'

by Nancye M. Willis
United Methodist News Service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)--If the life of Laura McCray were made into a movie, it would rival "Forrest Gump" for number of associations with history-making events and people.

McCray, 88, an active member of Edgehill United Methodist Church here, knows of no plans for a movie, but an Aug. 3 NBC-TV documentary will profile her extraordinary life, along with others. The special focuses on people who have lived through much of the 20th century and represent spirituality at work.

NBC-TV will air "A Lifetime of Sharing," produced by the National Council of Churches (NCC) as a part of the network's 1997 "Horizons of the Spirit" series to affiliates nationwide, each of which has the option to carry it.

McCray is featured as an example of an African-American woman who has worked through church and community structures to further the causes of civil rights, hunger relief, African-American education and Christian service.

Born in Battle Creek, Mich., McCray is the daughter of an Alabaman, a trained physiotherapist at Battle Creek Sanitarium, an innovative spa founded by John Harvey Kellogg.

When Booker T. Washington appealed to Kellogg for funds for Tuskegee Institute, he got more in the bargain. McCray's father was chosen to travel with him and monitor his health.

Transplanted to Alabama, McCray's parents continued to share their skills--her father, health-related knowledge; her mother, kindness and good cooking--with the community.

"Their relationship, I think, helped me to know what love could be," she recalls. Although neither was highly educated, she says "they were educators" who helped found a school.

McCray's parents enrolled her in Barber Memorial Seminary to complete high school. Describing her stay there, she says, she came to love the "quiet hours where we would have to study."

She went on to graduate from Tuskegee in 1932, and soon afterward, married William Buck, whom she had met on a blind date. The young couple took jobs: she, as administrative assistant to Tuskegee's dean of students; he, as director of food services at a veterans' hospital. Her husband died young after taking on extra hospital duties in the tuberculosis ward and contracting the disease, leaving McCray with three small children to support.

She remarried that same year, gaining a stepfather for her children, and maintaining a happy marriage for 22 years.

As part of her job at Tuskegee, she attended workshops at nearby Highlander Folk School. During one workshop, the director charged a participant that McCray thought was not interested with a mission: "'Rosa, when you go back to Montgomery, do something about what you have learned.' And Rosa said, 'I'll try.'

"The next time I heard from Rosa (Parks), she had refused to give up her seat to this white person on the bus and started the Montgomery bus boycott," McCray recalls.

McCray took the words to heart as well, helping Tuskegee students find jobs, and, with her husband, beginning a school to help young people master business skills. "I'd work at Tuskegee until 4:30 p.m. and then from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m., I would do tutoring work in business," she says.

A colleague of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., McCray was active in the civil-rights movement, working toward change and maintaining the firm belief that change would come.

After retiring from Tuskegee, McCray moved to Nashville in 1976 to be near her daughter. She continues to help others through "Luke 14:12," a feeding program she started.

Retirement presents itself to McCray as another opportunity to help others. "You never stop trying to do the best you can so that you can help someone else to be the best that they can be," she concludes.

McCray has also been featured on "Passages," a 90-second radio series produced cooperatively by UMCom and Presbyterian Media Mission.

Posted June 3, 1997

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