He's not Zelig or Forrest Gump, but Jesse White's lived through a lot of history and been around a lot of famous people. If you're talking about the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the four-term secretary of state – who just turned 80 – is talking about 1952. That's when he went to Alabama State College in Montgomery on an athletic scholarship. He and his new Southern friends were shocked at the level of discrimination the other experienced: practically none for him in Chicago, the opposite in Alabama.
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He learned a lot in church from a young pastor who was going to lead a bus boycott. “'If you get struck on one cheek,'” White said Martin Luther King told him, “'you turn the other cheek so you can be struck on the other one as well.' 'Dr. King,' I told him, 'you know I'm from Chicago, and we don't operate like that.'” Still, he was able to persuade himself to follow King's script. And White says for an African-American man like himself to be a top statewide vote-getter? “They'd think that you were dreaming; that this would not occur.”