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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Herbert Meza
Interviewer: David Dodrill
March 10, 1987
D: This is an interview with Reverend Herb Meza, minister
at Fort Caroline Presbyterian Church, and the
interviewer is David Dodrill. The date is March 10,
1987, and it is 11:00 a.m. We are having the interview
in the office at the church. This is for the
University of Florida Oral History Project. Herb,
would you please give us your full name and where you
M: Herbert Meza, no middle initial. We always thought
that middle initials or middle names were an
extravagance. I was born in Ybor City, Florida, in
D: Tell us a little about your family and your early years
M: My mother immigrated from Cuba around 1898. She came
with her mother, two sisters, and a brother, which was
a very gutsy thing for a woman without a husband to do,
to immigrate to this country with four children. They
settled in Ybor City.
Back in those days, there was a man named Martinez Ybor
who had been persuaded by the city fathers to look at
the east side of Tampa as a possible location for a
cigar factory. He did establish a cigar factory, and
others came later. That area became known as a cigar
mecca, as you know. It still is, although it is now
all automated. That is where my mother's family
My mother married my father, and I do not know too much
history about that. We think that my father's father
was a Spanish consul to Key West, Florida, and that my
father was born in Key West, Florida. He came later on
to Ybor City where he met my mother and married. My
father died when I was nine or ten years old. I do not
remember him very well, but he must have been a very,
very unique man and in a sense a renaissance man,
because he was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a boxer,
he was a policeman, he was a barber, he was a notary
public, [and] he was involved in the politics of the
city. The last I remember, he owned a barber shop on
the second floor of the First National Bank. But that
is the extent of my memory.
I do remember, though, that when my father died, it
became very, very difficult for us. My mother had
never worked a day in her life. She immediately began
to learn to make cigars by hand, and she got a job in a
cigar factory in West Tampa. I remember once in a
while I would take her [to work] on my bicycle so that
she could save the nickel streetcar [fare]. I remember
those days being very, very difficult days. I had one
older brother. There were two of us, [and my] older
brother, who was sickly at the very beginning of his
life, then went into the military. I was never very
much around. He is still alive, and we are very close.
He lives in California now.
So my mother and I developed a very, very intimate
relationship. I went to work very early in my life
delivering newspapers and delivering ice. You remember
the old days? You took a block of ice into a home and
put it in an icebox. I also worked with Coca-Cola
delivering on Saturdays in the truck, and I worked for
S. H. Kress in the warehouse. [I did] all kinds of
jobs. I was very industrious and very supportive of my
mother. All that money I would immediately give to my
mother. She never forgot how much I did to help.
She was a very gutsy woman, very profane but in a
lovely Latin way. Profanity in Spanish is not as
vulgar or as crude or as evil-intended [as it is in
English]. There is kind of a tenderness and a kind of
warm humor with some of the profanity. She was profane
in that way. I remember very early they [the union]
told her to go on strike. They were striking for
better wages in one of the cigar plants, and she
faithfully went on strike. She had a sense of
commitment about that, but she lost her job.
D: Do you remember what year that was?
M: Let me see. My father died in 1931, so that must have
been around 1935. She lost her job, and we went
through another crisis until she could find another
job. She always said something to me that has been
very, very valuable in my life. She once told me about
a Spanish phrase: "Do not warn me about falling off the
bed when I am already sleeping on the floor," which was
a way of saying, "When you have nothing to lose, you
really become the freest person in the world." If you
are not afraid of losing anything, then your mind
becomes your own, and nobody can tamper with who you
My uncle was a very unique man. I buried him seven
years ago. He was a man who never went to school but
read everything. He read all the philosophers; Balzac
was his favorite. He read great literature:
Shakespeare, Thomas Paine. He listened every Saturday
to the opera on the radio. He taught me to appreciate
opera. He was a man who cared for all causes of human
concern and human values, and I think I must have
apprehended something from him, too, because I still
remember what a strong impact he had upon me. He was
very much in favor, for example, of the Cuban
Revolution of 1959 and 1960. While most people were
very angry and upset, he was able to interpret it in
terms of its value for Cuba, which had so long been
So my uncle and my mother had a profound influence on
me. I suppose the greatest influence in my life was
the church and my faith. In spite of my great
commitment to my mother and in my hard work to be
supportive to her, I also was part of the culture. I
grew up very, very angry and very volatile. She made
me my first boxing trunks; I remember that I was always
involved in some kind of mischief with my fists. I
remember one time I was selling newspapers on the
corner near my home when two guys came and took my
papers away from me. They said they were going to sell
them, and I went home crying. My mother took me by the
arm and said, "Let's go back to the corner." And she
went back to the corner, and she took one of the
fellows by the hand and held him by the arm and said,
"Now, go get your papers." I remember whipping that
other fellow, and then my mother said to this fellow,
"Now, do you want some?" He said no, and they left. I
remember that as a great asset in helping me discover
Anyway, I grew very volatile. I was always aware of an
under-riding sense of prejudice in that community. We
lived in Ybor City. To get out of Ybor City we had to
ride on the streetcar or on the bus. Right now when I
go back to Tampa it seems to be me to be a brief
journey; in those days it appeared to be so long to go
downtown on a bicycle or on a streetcar. And I
remember all the advice that people always were giving
me. I could be a policeman if I worked hard enough, or
maybe I could be the chief janitor at the school, or I
could roll cigars by hand if I wanted to do that. But
I remember having some sense of restlessness within me.
I needed more than that, but I did not know it at the
time. I remember going to the beach and seeing a sign
that read, "No Dogs or Latins Allowed." I remember how
furious I was and how we tore that sign down. There
was always the sense that I did not belong. It was
kind of a sense of under-riding prejudice which created
a lot of restlessness.
I had a friend whom I love very much whom I also buried
several years ago. He was older than I, and he had a
very lucrative job. He was a printer, and in those
days he made lots of money; he had good clothes and
plenty of shoes, and we all envied him. One day he
left all that and went back to high school; he began
high school at the age of twenty-six. I will never
forget him. His name was Armando Rodriguez. He sat
next to me in history class, and he always took an
interest in me. I had a tooth missing from a fight
that I had had, and one day he said to me, "Why don't
you have your tooth fixed and let me pay for it?" I
said to him: "Why would you do that? Why would you
want to do that for me?" He said, "Well, because I
have the love of Christ in my heart, and I think that
is the kind of thing we do as Christians." That made a
powerful impression on me. He had been inviting me
constantly to go to his youth group, and I had never
gone. So I decided to go one day, but I did it
typically my way: I went in through the window and
disrupted the meeting.
D: How old were you at this time?
M: I must have been fifteen or sixteen, something like
that. Yes, because I went in the marine corps at
eighteen, and I had already embraced my faith before I
went in the marine corps. I went in through the
window. I remember it upset everybody, and everybody
laughed. I loved to upset [people]. But the man who
was the pastor of the church, a very wise man whom I
also buried a few years ago, became a kind of surrogate
father to all of us. He took us under his wing. He
would play Ping-Pong with us and do a lot of stuff with
us, and he would give us advice. He would open up
doors for us. He always told us we could be more than
we dared to be. And he always told us about the love
That became a very formidable experience in my life,
coupled with that Latin sense of passion that my uncle
had shared with me--how people are important and how
human beings are important--and the gutsiness and
character my mother modeled for me. And then [there
was] the love and understanding I found in the church.
The way that Jesus was interpreted to me.
I remember when I first heard about him. I felt like
Hinie when he wrote in Plutuck's Life that when he
first read about Plutuck he wanted to get on a horse
and be a hero someplace. I think that is what I caught
about this bold Galilean: a sense of adventure, a sense
of daringness and risk, a sense of saying that my life
could count for something. That had a very powerful
impact in me. I always wanted to be a hero anyway. I
remember seeing all the cowboy movies and always
wondering how I could be a hero. I really think that
is one reason Don Quixote became so important in my
life, because I saw in that noble knight--misguided, I
suppose--something of how it is to have a passion in
your heart, how it is to have a sense of commitment to
a dream and how people who do not live by dreams find
their lives so often shipwrecked on so many reefs.
At any rate, very early in my life I went into the
marine corps. My mother had to sign for me because I
was not of age. This was in 1942; Pearl Harbor had
happened December 1941. I finished high school in May
or June of 1942, and I enlisted in the marine corps.
I remember leaving at seventeen, very lonely. I went
on a bus to Orlando and then took a train from Orlando
to Paris Island. I got off the train early in the
morning--it must have been three or four o'clock in the
morning--and everybody was ordered to start picking up
cigarette butts. Everybody started yelling at us, and
for three months it was literally hell. I learned
something about the marine corps, though. I learned
that all the antagonism that they built into me, the
anger and frustration, became pride once I graduated.
Though I am not quite sure I would encourage anyone to
become a marine anymore, I do know that it gave me a
sense of my own self-worth, a sense in my ability to
look after myself and stand on own.
I remember that the drill instructor, the "D.I. at
P.I." as we used to call him (P.I. is Paris Island),
happened to be from Tampa, from Hyde Park. His name
was Sergeant Trazvent, and I remember how miserable he
made it for me. First thing he said to me was, "If you
can shoot a rifle as straight as your people can throw
a knife in Ybor City, you will be an expert." Which,
of course, was an exaggeration, but that is how the
Latins were seen, and that is what he communicated to
me. But I finally made it through the marine corps
[boot camp] and went on to serve in the Pacific. I
received two purple hearts in combat and a citation.
Finally, when the war was over, those of us who had
been overseas and those of us who were wounded had
[enough] points [to be sent home]. They gave you
points in those days. The more points you had, the
sooner you got out, and I had enough points to get out
My Christian faith, by the way, served me very, very
well in the marine corps. It gave me a sense of
security and worth and purpose. I knew when I got out
of the marine corps I was going to go to seminary. It
also did a strange thing for me. Somehow I got
involved with a group of fundamentalists. I really
swallowed that--hook, line, and sinker.
D: What do you mean, by fundamentalists?
M: Well, they were theological ideologues who believed
that to be a Christian you have to believe more and
more about less and less. My mind was put in neutral.
I was just to exercise my faith, I was not to question,
and I had to do certain things. [It was] kind of a new
form of legalism. One of the things I had to do was go
out and witness and on Friday and Saturday nights in
Jacksonville, North Carolina, [which is] a small town
full of marines and full of bars. I went down the
street talking to people asking them: "Have you
received Jesus as your savior? Have you been washing
the blood of the Lamb?" I always knew that there was
something very false and inadequate about that, but I
forced myself to do it because, after all, that was
what we were supposed to do.
I grew out of that when I got into college. Thank God,
I majored in philosophy and had an amazing professor
named Dr. Abernathy, who really forced me to use my
mind. [He taught me] not to be afraid of truth [and
that] faith had nothing to fear from truth. I do not
have time to tell you the long story, the struggle that
I went through, but eventually I graduated from
Davidson College [in Davidson, NC] with a wonderful
sense of what the mind can do and how God uses a mind
to explore new truths and how your mind is the last
citadel and how nobody can violate it. [I took comfort
in] knowing that God does not violate your mind [and
in] knowing that the solitary conscience of one man is
the last refuge, the last citadel of humankind.
So the marine corps had a powerful influence in giving
me a sense of my self-worth, and my college education
provided me a sense of what education was all about.
We do not educate people now; we give them vocational
guidance. "Everybody goes to school to get a job" is
not true. Not everybody does, but in the main most
people do. We neglect so many fields that make us
human beings. We want to achieve, but we do not want
to do it by growing, by exploring truth. We want
education really to become a vocational thing, and we
lose so much. I believe that is one of the troubles we
have in this country. We have very few people who are
educated; most people are "indoctrinated."
About three or four years ago I printed a list of books
in my church paper that I thought every enlightened
person ought to read, and I offered ten dollars to
every high school student who read one book and
reported to me orally. Nobody took me on. People
always ask me, "How come you quote so much?" And I
have to say, "Why don't you quote some more?" To miss
the great thoughts of the ages--the Platos and the
Aristotles and the Aquinases and the Thomas Paines and
the Jeffersons--is really to be illiterate.
D: If you had two books you would want everybody to read,
what would they be?
M: Well, obviously aside from the Bible, which I feel
everybody ought to read for one reason or another, I
think probably my first choice would be Don Quixote by
Cervantes. I play a game with people around here very
often. "David," I say to one of them, "suppose you
were stranded on an island. What three books would you
take with you?" It is a lot of fun, because people
come at you differently. Most everybody wants a book
like Popular Mechanics or something like that, which is
not a bad idea, and most everybody would say they want
a Bible. The third book is interesting. Somebody
wants to take a cookbook, and somebody [else] wants to
take a medical book or something. I just sense that you
cannot live and be inspired without a book. You
survive, of course, but a man like Quixote [is one that
everybody should read about]. Pilgrim's Progress [by
John Bunyan] is another book I think everybody ought to
read. City of God by Saint Augustine the Bishop of
Hippo is another great, great book, as is Homer's
Iliad. Those books open up the world; they do not
close the world.
D: Tell me a little more about what motivated you to
become a minister.
M: Well, as you know, I guess the seed goes back to my
uncle and my mother and my friend Armando--my uncle for
his great concern for human beings, his great sense of
defending every cause that was important to humans; and
my mother with her great sense of dignity and struggle,
always encouraging me not to be afraid, to be more than
I would ever be. As I understood Jesus, He was a man
for all seasons who championed human beings. That is
who really faced God on behalf of human beings.
I read a book that made a powerful impression one time,
a book called Encounter with Revolution. It was a book
written by a man named Dick Shaull, who is still alive
and still a professor. In that book, Dick Shaull tells
a story of the French liner Champlion. The ship finds
itself in a big storm in high seas and suddenly sinks.
It sinks so fast that there is not enough time to
launch all the lifeboats. As people scramble upon
those lifeboats, they become full. As soon as they
become full and others try to scramble upon them,
people inside the lifeboats take axes and chop off the
hands of people who are trying to get on board. A
sailor who had managed to get into one of the boats was
deeply, deeply disturbed about this and said a thing
that I think has guided me all my life and guided me
into the ministry. He said, "I will never again take a
place in a lifeboat in which there is room for only a
limited number of people."
I think that has been one of the great motivations of
my life, never to be exclusive. There is room for all
of us. That, in a sense, is what led me to my search
for peace. We have to make this world big enough for
all of us. We are a small, small marble floating in an
immensity of space which is yet unknown and staggers
the imagination of humans. You can go for billions of
years and not even touch the universe. We do not know
what is out there. We are one small, little marble,
like a nutshell, floating on an immense space, and we
are tearing each other up. Do you know why we are
tearing each other up? Because of ideas.
Ideas are the most deadly thing, and very often they
are most deadly in the hands of the church. The
history of the church is terrible. The church has
sought to gain power and commit adultery with the
state. I have often felt that what we wanted to do was
not make the world safe for a few of us but make the
world safe for all us. Jesus is inclusive: "God so
loved the world," not just any segment of it--white or
black or Democrat or communist or capitalist. All my
life I have been searching for models that have enabled
me to champion this cause, and Jesus of Nazareth was a
model for me. I suppose I began to think about that,
the ministry, in trying to find a large enough vessel,
a large enough idea, as I saw in that little book, to
encompass all of humankind so that no one will be
I had a minor in history, and I have read a lot of
history and philosophy. Of course, I majored in
philosophy, and I almost went into journalism. I
wanted to write. I guess by the grace of God, I chose
the ministry, and I have spent all my ministerial life
fighting against all institutions that seek to put up
fences and to separate human beings.
I can tell you some interesting stories in the ministry
of things I have done, precisely in that relationship.
To illustrate this point, I remember once in Texas when
I graduated from seminary.
D: Which seminary was that?
M: The Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.
I wanted to be a missionary to Japan. I had fought
against the Japanese. I had a very profound experience
in combat with a Japanese man that I had killed, and I
thought then that I would be a missionary to Japan to
carry the gospel of reconciliation and all that. The
church fathers asked me if I would consider going to
Portugal. We had no Presbyterian missionaries in
Portugal in those days. They wanted to be the first
missionaries from our church. It was going to be a
tough mission. It was going to require a Latin
language, which I spoke, and a comprehension big enough
not to make asses out of ourselves in Portugal by
trying to put down the Roman Catholic Church but to
discover, again, a larger parameter in which you were.
That is why we went to Portugal as missionaries. When
we came back from Portugal, we went to Texas and
organized a church among laboring people.
D: What year was that?
M: 1957. It was among the Texas Oil and Chemical Workers,
of those plants in Pasadena and Houston and all that.
And we built the St. Stephen Presbyterian Church, a
happy church which is still existing. I became
involved in my ministry there, and I remember one year
I had a letter from the carpenters union asking us not
to buy furniture from the Sams Manufacturing Company.
Sams built church furniture, and the carpenters had
gone on strike because [they felt that] Sams was not
paying them proper [wages], so the union asked us not
to buy church furniture from Sams. Then Sams sent a
letter to everybody saying that [allegations that the
company was unable to fill orders] were not true, that
they were fully employed. Of course, they were
employed with scabs. So I preached a sermon on it and
wrote a letter, which I inserted in the newspaper,
saying that I would be willing to negotiate the strike
and that I would organize a group of enlightened
community people that would help them settle the
strike. Well, the labor union took me up immediately
and sent a wire to all the newspapers. They were
willing to let this minister and anybody he selected
[mediate]. Of course, the manufacturing company said
no. They said: "We do not have a problem. The company
is working full blast, and everybody is employed." But
that brought a lot of focus on my ministry there, and
people began to recognize that I cared.
Later on I became the pastor of the First Presbyterian
Church in Texas City. My predecessor was a terrific
D: What was his name?
M: Dave Currie. He is dead now. He was a terrific guy.
He also was involved in everything in the town, and
from him I learned to attend union meetings. So I used
to attend union meetings very often in Texas City,
though in my church there were twenty-five Ph.D.s from
Monsanto and Union Carbide. But everybody knew my
world had to be bigger than that, and so everybody
accepted that reality. Anyway, it is interesting.
Anyway, back to Houston. That was during the days of
Central High School and the racial tension [in Little
Rock, Arkansas]. One day we read in the paper that
Governor [Orval Eugene] Faubas was coming to Houston to
speak to the White Citizen's Council. So five of us,
all of us Presbyterians, decided that we would buy an
ad in the paper which we paid for ourselves. We bought
a big ad in the Houston Chronicle saying we do not want
a Little Rock [situation] here. We said we thought the
governor ought to stay home and let us solve our
problems in our own way. The newspapers immediately
contacted Governor Faubas and said: "Have you seen what
these five ministers have done in Houston? They are
very [upset with your coming]." So the governor said,
"They are just a bunch of brainwashed Presbyterians."
I was chief [spokesman] of the group, so the newspapers
called me and said, "The governor has just called you
'a bunch of brainwashed Presbyterians.'" I said: "The
governor is absolutely right. We are brainwashed by
the spirit of Jesus." Then I quoted from Philippians,
"Paul said, 'Let this mind be in you which was also in
Christ Jesus,' and yes, we are brainwashed by the
spirit of Jesus." Of course, that came out in the
papers, too. But at each point, you see, I was staking
my life on a larger principle of inclusivity--labor and
management, black and white, male and female, etc.
After I left my first church in Houston, I went to be
the associate pastor of a very large, prestigious
church in Houston called the Bellaire Presbyterian
Church. The pastor was a wonderful man named Billy
Baine. He still is an excellent friend of mine, a
beautiful man. It so happened that the presidential
election in 1960 was going on, and everybody was saying
we could not elect a Roman Catholic president. Because
of my involvement, I had just been elected president of
the Houston Ministerial Association, which was a dying
outfit [because] nobody paid much respect to it. I
told them I would be president if they would let me
manage the programs. So they said all right. I issued
an invitation immediately to John Kennedy and to
Richard Nixon to come to Houston and debate the
religious issue in a fair setting, under properly
supervised debating techniques. Well, we did not hear
from anybody. Then when the Kennedys got to California
in their campaign, they discovered that the religious
issue really was the issue. They wired me and said
they would accept the invitation. Well, I do not have
time to tell you about all the travail and all that.
It is an interesting story, but it is a long story. It
has never been written. I shared some of my material
with a guy who wrote a Ph.D. thesis one time on it.
D: Tell us a little about it.
M: Well, let me tell you what happened. They wired me and
said they would accept the invitation. Here I was now
with an organization that was half defunct issuing an
invitation to a presidential candidate who had accepted
it. I did not know where we were going to meet. I
immediately contacted a wonderful man, Judge Woodrow
Seals. Woodrow was a Methodist layman, and he also
happened to be a liberal Democrat. I talked to
Woodrow, and he said, "We will help you." Lo and
behold, this thing kept mushrooming, and pretty soon
people from all over the country were writing wanting
to come. All of the newspaper people wanted to come.
It got so big that we finally had to move into the
Crystal Ballroom of the Rice Hotel.
So you can imagine I was under tremendous pressure.
The congregation of which I was associate pastor was a
deeply Republican congregation. The Kennedy people
sent a man down who became a friend of mine, a close
friend, James Wine. He was later an ambassador. He
was here this past week spending two days with us. Jim
Wine was a judge in Kentucky and a Presbyterian elder.
He had gone to work with the National Council of
Churches, and the Kennedys hired Jim to be their
liaison with the Protestant community. He flew into
Houston a few days ahead of time and came by to see me.
He said, "We do not want any favors. All we want is
that you guarantee that it is going to be impartial and
that you will be fair." I said, "You have my word, my
witness to that." My life has always be motivated by
fairness and inclusivity.
Something very interesting happened. The day of the
big debate, they had a big Democrat dinner at the Rice
Hotel, and LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson] sent word that
he wanted to introduce John Kennedy. So Jim Wine came
to me and said: "Herb, we have a problem. Senator
Johnson wants to introduce Jack Kennedy." I said: "He
cannot do it. This is not a political meeting. This
is a meeting of the Houston Ministerial Association in
which we are dealing with a religious issue." So he
said, "Well, I will go back and tell him, but you know
Senator Johnson." So he left. He came back almost
about three hours before the meeting, very upset and
very excited. He said: "Herb, I will tell you what
Senator Johnson said. He said, 'No damn little
preacher is going to tell me what to do in Texas.'" So
I said, "Well, you tell the senator that if he comes on
the stage to introduce Senator Kennedy, I am going to
walk off the stage, and he is going to find himself
moderating a meeting of the Houston Ministerial
Association." Well, they were beginning to experiment
in those days with closed circuit TV, so to calm the
senator they put a big closed circuit screen and gave
him a private show, and he did not come down. So he
[Johnson] did not introduce him [Kennedy]. Nobody
knows that story; nobody has ever written that story.
The meeting was on national TV. It was covered
worldwide. There are enough tapes floating around the
country showing that meeting. It went beyond the time
on national TV, but he stayed on and we kept on, and
people taped that. I moderated the meeting, and I made
the opening introductions. I will never forget how he
was so nervous his hands were shaking. But when he got
to the podium, he made a wonderful four- or five-minute
I remember one of the things he said. In those days
there were a bunch of guys after him. Dan Poling was
one of the guys. Dan Poling, Norman Vincent Peale, and
three or four of these big, big church preachers had
combined to say you cannot put a Catholic in the White
House. Dan Poling's main criticism was in regard to
his son. I do not remember when, but [a] ship went
down with five chaplains, [and they each] took off his
life belt and gave it to an enlisted man. They held
hands and went down with the ship. They built [and
dedicated] a chapel to the five chaplains. It is
called the Chapel of the Five Chaplains, I think. Dan
Poling's son was one of the five. They invited John
Kennedy to come and represent the Roman Catholic
[chaplain]. John Kennedy said, "I cannot do it." He
was a senator then. [He said,] "I will come as a
private person, but I cannot represent the church."
They always held that against him. I remember his
saying that night: "This is the only thing I have ever
heard them say against me. What else do they have
Anyway, it was a very difficult meeting because we had
people from all over the country come. People who
never even visited the Houston Ministerial Association,
particularly the Baptists who were not members, showed
up in masses. The room was filled. I mean, the room
was filled. The press, the lights--it was a very tense
moment for me. We had three microphones--one, two and
three. We asked people to line up behind them, and I
said we were going to go from one to two to three so we
could get [to] as many questions as we could. The
first guy got up with a manuscript and began to make a
terrible indictment. I said: "I am sorry, but you are
out of order. If you have a question, you can ask it.
Microphone two." And I took control of the meeting.
It was a fair meeting. There were ugly people, and
whenever they rose up, I ruled them out of order. The
crowd began to appreciate that. I remember the crowd.
When I ruled somebody out of order, it would applaud.
The questions became refined and better. Jack Kennedy
did a tremendous job. When he got through, they gave
him a standing ovation, except, of course, people that
were upset with him.
Anyway, that, again, was an illustration of my
principle of inclusivity, that there ought to be no
religious litmus test for a president. I became good
friends with the Kennedys, by the way. As a matter of
fact, in 1975 or 1976 when they dedicated the John F.
Kennedy Library, I was asked to go up and give a
prayer, which has been printed and framed and is
hanging in the library now. It was marvelous prayer
that I worked hard on. I sat next to President Carter
and Mrs. Carter.
D: What was the date of that interview?
M: What interview?
D: The Kennedy.
M: I do not remember. I [will] have to look it up.
D: Do you remember the year?
M: It had to be 1959, because the election was in 1960.
It had to be 1959, and it had to be earlier than
November, so it was in the summer of 1959.
I remember he came back to Houston the day before he
was assassinated. As a matter of fact, Adlai Stevenson
had been to Texas about a month before, and the
situation was so ugly there he had been hit over the
head with a big sign in Dallas. Stevenson had come
back to Washington and said to the president: "Do not
go to Dallas. The climate there is so hostile. It is
so volatile, do not go." But he went. He was going to
land at the airport in Dallas, receive some people, and
then go on to a meeting. Then [he was to] go on his
journey. Woodrow Seals, the judge, called me and
asked, "Have you been invited to be at the receiving
line for the president?" I said, "No. Have you?" He
said, "No, but somebody is pulling a fast one." So he
wired Washington, and in the next few hours I had an
invitation. I remember my wife could not go, but I
could go. We went and met them all at the line. I do
not know if you know how they do that, but the vice-
president's plane comes in first, and then the vice-
president gets out and receives the president's plane
when the president comes in. So that is what they did
when the presidential plane landed. LBJ went aboard
and they walked out to the receiving line. I remember
Jack Kennedy saying to me, "Reverend Meza, I remember
when we met last time." I said, "Yes, sir. It was
under different circumstances, but I am so glad you are
here today." Then he introduced me to Jackie. When
Lyndon Johnson got to me, he turned around to talk to
an aide; he bypassed me and kept going. I do not know
whether he had been clued, because I was too small fry
for him to worry about. I know it was not a very warm
Then, of course, President Kennedy was killed, and it
was a terrible, terrible agony for me. I was at a
meeting of the presbytery when it was announced [that]
he was shot, and a whole part of my life went out.
That young idealist that said, "We must make the world
safe for diversity," that had created the Peace Corps
to send a bunch of kids all over the world and not to
destroy like we did in Vietnam, but to build and to
share and to light a thousand lights. They had a big
memorial service at Texas City where I was pastor then.
By that time I was pastor of the First Presbyterian
Church in Texas City, and they asked me to give the
address. There were 5,000 people in the football
stadium and I wrote a cracking address that I still
have. It has been used here and there. [The address
was] on the young man who wanted to get the country
moving again, whose dream had been put upon by a rifle
that cost $9.98. But you cannot kill a dream with a
bullet or that kind of stuff. Again, that is another
example, Dave, of my sense of inclusivity.
D: You have been quite involved in the peace movement
nowadays. Will you tell us a little bit about what the
peace movement means to you?
M: Well, I think the world has gotten into a terrible
ideological impasse. We have two giant colossals, two
arrogant colossals--the Soviet Union and the United
States--vying for the world. Each cannot admit any
sense of guilt or weakness, and each is leading the
world into financial bankruptcy because each is
consumed with its own armor. And we are doing it only
because of an idea. If the Soviet Union and the United
States ever decided to get together and feed the
hungry, you would have a new world.
But I remember what George Bernard Shaw said one time:
"There is more safety in a lion's cage with a well-fed
lion than with a man whose idea you oppose." Only
people kill for an idea, and I have felt all along that
what you have to do is find a better idea. That for me
is a Christian gospel, a Christian idea where all of us
belong and all of us can accept one another. If we can
find one large idea, then maybe we can all reconcile
our lesser ideas.
I think John Galsworthy has a play called Loyalties in
which people kill each other out of commitment to their
lesser loyalties--to clan, to race, to party, to
nation--and you get the notion at the end of the play
that if you can find an idea that can encompass all
those different lesser loyalties, one high loyalty
might reconcile the lesser loyalties. That is how I
see the Christian faith. In my humble judgment, it is
the only idea now we have left powerful enough to save
the world from the lesser ideas. So all my adult,
thinking, rational life, I have made peace one of the
Washington [DC] was a wonderful open door to many
areas, and I was invited to many places and was able to
do and say many things. I should have told you.
[After] First Presbyterian Church in Texas City, I went
to the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC, [which
was a very unique and gutsy church that did very
beautiful things. When I left the Church of the
Pilgrims in 1980, they established a Herb Meza Peace
Lectureship, and every year they bring lecturers to
But in a place like Jacksonville, peace is a dirty
word. If you are for peace, [by implication] of
course, you are not against the Soviets, and you have
to hate the Soviets [to be accepted]. That is one of
the areas in which Christianity, I think, conflicts so
deeply with patriotism. In this country, to be a good
patriot you have to hate Russia. And Jesus said, "Love
your enemies." I have to choose whether I am going to
be loyal to my God, who tells me to love my enemies, or
to be a good citizen. I wonder how much tenderness we
have to sacrifice to be good citizens. So there is a
great deal of tension in this town, and I never have
felt very comfortable here. We have three military
camps, as you know, and an extremely conservative
newspaper. So to be a person of peace here is not
really something that is very highly accepted. You are
either a communist dupe or fellow traveler.
When I came to Jacksonville, I had been divorced for
seven and a half years, and I really thought I would
never marry again; I thought I would marry the cause of
peace. But I met this amazing, wonderful woman, and I
fell in love and courted her.
D: What was her name?
M: Her name then was Fran Collier. One day a friend of
hers said to her, "Fran, what are you doing these
days?" She said, "I am dating an interesting
minister." "Well, who is he?" She said, "He is a
Presbyterian minister named Herb Meza." And the guy
said to her, "That is one of the nicest guys I know,
for being a communist." He had heard me give an
address at the civic club, I think, which never has
invited me back again, by the way, but it was a very
erudite address. As a matter of fact, I had a man tell
me afterwards that he had never heard such an erudite
person. It was a Thanksgiving address in which I
talked about our national heritage.
Anyway, it is more difficult in a place like this, but
I suppose [I am] more needed in a place like this to
lift up our sanity which we have lost in our
uncontrollable fear and anger of communism. You see,
it is much easier to hate somebody than to work at a
solution. That is why these TV evangelists are
moralists. Moralism is cheap. All you have to do is
find a convenient enemy and moralize against it. But
to build a moral structure in which there is room for
both the Soviet existence and our existence is a more
difficult thing. That is another reason why I have
been so deeply involved in Cuba.
D: Tell me about that.
M: Well, I have been to Cuba three times. I am supposed
to be in Cuba right now, as a matter of fact, this
week, but the plans fell through and I could not get
there. My feeling is that our fear of communism is so
uncontrollable and so unexamined that we are all kind
of standing still waiting for some holocaust or
something [to happen] when we could learn to get along
with Cuba. Now, we get along with China, but China is
so far away. Some people do anyway. Richard Nixon
did. It is so far away that it is safe. But if we
could get along with Cuba, then I think we might be
able to lessen some of the fear of communism. So I
have tried to build bridges, and because my heritage is
there, I have tried to build bridges with the Cuban
church and the Cuban community.
When peace comes, it is not going to come, I do not
think, in the place where somebody keeps saying, "I am
wrong. You are right." None of our leaders can do
that. They are too arrogant, and they would not last
in office three days. There are no monuments in our
nation to repentance. You have never heard a president
say, "I am sorry." Not even this past week did you
hear him say, "I am sorry." We do not even expect our
presidents to do that. So if it is going to come, it
has to come from the periphery, and I think a place
like Cuba is a unique place to begin understanding.
Cubans love this country very much. Our embargo of
Cuba has only hurt us because we are the only nation in
the world observing it. The Canadians do over $200
million worth of business with Cuba that we have
forfeited. They send thousands of tourists every year
to Cuba. The Europeans do it. The Latin Americans do
it. It is this irrational fear that we have to make
Latin America has its own history; it has its own
revolution. They are not as far advanced as we are
because they were colonized by Spaniards who brought
some religious prejudice and some racial prejudices.
Latin America is just now beginning to overcome those.
But it has its own history, its own inner struggle, and
part of that inner struggle in Latin America is
revolutionary. Anybody who says that revolution is
exportable is naive and does not know the nature of
revolution. It has to come from the inside.
In this country, we have supported every evil dictator
in Latin America since I can remember. I can remember
my great uncle talking about how we supported
[Fulgencio] Batista, Samosa, Pinochet, [Raphael L.]
Trujillo [Molina], Jimenez, [Francois] "Papa Doc"
Duvalier, on and on and on. [We have helped] every
evil dictator--some of them worse than Ghengis Kahn.
We never seem to be able to know that we have that we
have been on the wrong side of Latin American history
as far as I can remember. We established the Platt
Amendment in Cuba. No other country has ever done
that. That amendment gave us the right to intrude into
the life of Cuba whenever we wanted to establish
"peace." Cuba is very important, since it is ninety
miles away. A people that love us who are not our
natural enemies have established their own revolution
to meet their own need, a revolution which eventually
would change because communism does not produce long-
staying motivational factors. Even now in Cuba, the
Soviet Union, and China the motivation of private
capitalism came in [in the form of] private incentives.
But we do not have that wisdom. Our idea is that Cuba
has to submit [and that] Nicaragua has to submit like
everybody else has submitted.
The marines have invaded Latin America, my friend, over
seventy times since the turn of the century. [This has
been] documented by the State Department. I read an
article some time ago about when Dean Rusk [secretary
of state under presidents Kennedy and Johnson] was
trying to find a rationale to invade Cuba in the Bay of
Pigs. He came to Kennedy with a whole list of times
when the marines had done this already. So again, part
of my great struggle to be inclusive is to let the
[Latin] Americans have a right to their own destiny.
D: What would you say about the American policy in
Nicaragua as referring to the Contras and our sending
money and military aid to the Contras?
M: What has happened to us, I think, David, is that
Vietnam was one of the most destructive experiences in
American history; next to the Civil War, [it is
perhaps] the worst. In the Civil War I think we
learned something. Not all of us did, but we learned
something. Abraham Lincoln said, "The Civil War is
God's judgment upon 100 years of slavery." We began to
see that slavery was wrong. We took it off our statute
books. Although there was and still is prejudice, we
learned something. But the Vietnam war, what many
politicians call "the only war we never won," was
fought not in Vietnam alone but in this country, too.
It provided what I call the equivalent of a national
emotional breakdown. There were those who said, "Drop
the bomb. We have to win the war," and there were
those of us who said: "Get out. That is not a just
war. We do not belong there. We need to be out of
there." Of course, President Johnson was lied to, even
as President Reagan has been lied to. When Johnson got
the truth--and, by the way, if you read some of the
books I have read, he had to get the truth by going
onto the field and talking to the captains and
lieutenants, not to the generals, because the generals
were telling him what he wanted to hear--then he pulled
out. [Ed.: American involvement in Vietnam ended in
January 1973 in the Nixon Administration.] Anyway,
Vietnam is in our craw.
We are just right now egging for a fight. We invaded a
little island that had no defense. And do you know,
according to reports that I have read, we gave more
military medals of honor for Grenada than there were
soldiers there? Everybody got decorated. That [was
part of that] need to be number one again: "America is
back, standing tall."
But Vietnam, I think, is still in our craw, and
Nicaragua is part of how we are working that out of our
system. "No damn little dictator is going to tell us
what to do." Although every nation in Latin American
wants a political settlement and the Contadores country
have organized and have submitted plans, we have said
no. In the process we have supported a group of
[fighters called] Contras, which the president calls
"freedom fighters" who are men of no great honor.
Everybody knows that. Who knows what they have done
with their money. In the process, in order to not do
this Vietnam syndrome again, we have mined harbors and
ignored the World Court. We have turned our noses at
the World Court, which we have called upon in times
past, and said, "That does not apply here."
We are again struggling with an issue of the soul.
That is why the peace movement is important in this
country, because [situations as] Vietnam and Nicaragua
and El Salvador are an issue of the soul. What kind of
America do we want to be? We want to feel good without
having to be good. That is the issue we face now in
this country, whether we are going to find a goodness
greater than our power or whether we are going to be a
very average country, throwing its weight around, being
convulsed by the fear of communism, and engaging in
behavior that is neither dignified nor honorable.
D: Let me ask you a question. In recent months there have
been protest movements here in the state against the
Defense Department's test firing of missiles,
particularly down the east coast of Florida. What is
your opinion of civil disobedience?
M: Well, I think civil disobedience is a very historic and
honorable decision that is Biblical--it began with the
Old Testament prophets--and has a very profound place
in our history and in the history of civilized nations.
Even John Steinbeck said sometime ago, "Civil
disobedience is a last stronghold of a conscience."
William Douglas, a [U.S.] Supreme Court justice
sometime back, wrote a marvelous article in which he
said: "Progress has always been made by the kooks, by
those who practice civil disobedience, by the prophets,
by the lonely visionary. Any society that overrules
them or destroys them loses its soul.
That is what happened to Russia. Russia has taken all
of its prophets, with the possible exception of what
Gorbachev is doing, and we are watching that carefully.
I think there is great hope in that, though I have
noticed our papers here do not think so. But Russia
has taken all the prophets, all the dissidents, and
imprisoned them, exiled them, murdered them, or
assassinated them. Russia has taken its conscience and
squeezed it out like you squeeze a tube of toothpaste.
[Fyodor Mikhailovich] Dostoyevsky, [Mikhail Yurievich]
Lermontov, [Count Leo] Tolstoy, [Aleksandr]
Solzhenitsyn, [Anatoly] Schcharansky, [Andrei
Dmitriyevich] Sakharov, on and on and on. When a
nation does that, it squeezes its life out.
So civil disobedience is a very important element of a
democratic society which not only guarantees the rights
of the minority but also provides a way for a man or a
woman to take issue and be willing to suffer the
consequences and make the consequences speak for him.
When a person practices civil disobedience, he wants to
go to jail, and going to jail is a way he shows that he
is willing to pay the price for a principle. A person
who practices civil disobedience is not a person who
just wants to escape jail. He wants his punishment to
be a vicarious atonement, if you know anything about
theology. He wants his punishment to reflect upon the
sin of the nation. So civil disobedience has always
been a great article of faith and democracy.
D: What has been your involvement in recent years in
different peace movements or demonstrations or anything
M: Well, let me see. I guess the first demonstration I
did was against Governor Faubas when he came to
Washington after that episode I told you about. [See
page 10. Ed.] A bunch of us got out there with our
little signs and said, "We do not want Little Rock
here." My second demonstration, I think, was when the
schools were integrated in Galveston County [Texas].
By the way, my church in Galveston County was the first
white church [that] integrated in Galveston County, and
I marched with the kids. I put on my clerical collar,
and I marched with the black kids going to white school
that morning, which was a very tense situation. But I
did that out of a sense that I had to do it.
I was going to go to Selma, Alabama. I had an
associate pastor in those days who was a paraplegic,
and I said to him, "John, let's go to Selma," thinking
he would say no, but he said, "Let's go." But
something came up. [I think] one of the pillars of the
church died. I remember it was something, and I never
did get to go to Selma. I always regretted not going
to Selma, Alabama, because it really was that
demonstration that turned things around.
But I marched in lots of peace parades in Washington.
My feeling was that after some time they became passe.
People lost interest in them after the marvelous Martin
Luther King demonstration in Washington where 250,000
people went. I was there that day when he made that
glorious speech, "I Have Been to the Mountain." You
know an interesting statistic that I read someplace?
The day he made that speech in Washington was the
lowest crime rate Washington ever had. After that,
peace marches fell by the wayside. I think they are
coming back now, but they are a healthy way for people
to act out their feelings.
What happens to a lot of us is that we have a lot of
feelings, but we do not have access to the press. I
have access to a pulpit, so I can do it every Sunday if
I wanted to. I do not, but I could. A lot of people
do not have access. How do you express yourself? That
is very frustrating. How do I risk? And I think those
peace marches and being willing to be arrested are a
ways to discover who you are. I quoted an illustration
on Sunday morning.
I read something about [Anatoly] Schcharansky, the
Russian dissident who had recently been released.
Schcharansky tells a story that when he was in prison
in the gulag, the worst thing they could do to him was
isolate him. He went on to say: "When you isolate a
person, you lose all moral systems. You lose sight of
who you are and what is happening." So he began to
write letters in behalf of other prisoners, and the
authorities came to him and said: "Look here. Those
letters do not do any good. We do not listen to them,
and it might get you in trouble." And he said a
marvelous thing which I quoted Sunday. He said: "You
do not understand. I do not write those letters to
help my neighbor prisoner. I write those letters to
save my soul." And he meant it.
So a lot of us who march do it for that reason. We
have to take a measure of who we are. Once you do
that, once you can take the measure of who you are and
survive, you become fearless. If you get to the place
where my mother was when she said, "Don't warn we about
falling off the bed when I am already sleeping on the
floor," when you know that there is nothing they can
take away from you that you do not mind letting go,
then you are fearless.
D: What do you see as the main aim in the peace movement
in this country or worldwide? Is it nuclear
disarmament? Is it better race relations? Is it
M: Well, I think it has shifted. I think when I became
deeply involved with the peace movement it was a
nuclear freeze. We just wanted things to stop.
D: When was that?
M: About four or five years ago. We just wanted things to
stop and take a breath. Now I think the peace movement
is going beyond that to the place where we have
recognized that we have to go beyond freeze to
understanding. If we are able to understand each
other, then we will not have needs for our weapons. So
I think the peace movement now has moved into, for
example, a great deal of creating opportunities for
relationships. The National Council of Churches and
other church groups send hundreds of people to Russia
every year--hundreds, thousands. We are sending
hundreds of people to Nicaragua every week in the
Witness for Peace movement. So the peace movement now
has moved beyond. We have not given up the idea of
freeze. From freeze we moved to disarmament, and from
disarmament we are moving beyond disarmament.
Although we have not won any major battles, I think
that [what] we have done is to raise the quality of the
questions. I do not think that growth takes place when
you have better answers. I think growth takes place
when you have better questions, even if you do not get
to the answers. As long as you are working at the
better questions, then you have a better chance. So I
think what the peace movement has done is to supply
better questions, to keep raising more fundamental
questions, and to bypass the more insignificant
I am very hopeful now for two reasons. I claim that
due to the irony of God--God works in ironic ways, you
know--[there are efforts toward around the world]. The
presence of [Mikhail] Gorbachev is one. The fact that
the president [of the U.S.S.R.] is in trouble and needs
to get his chestnuts out of the fire may lead him to
make a peace agreement. Richard Nixon did the same
thing when he went to China. Remember it started with
the Ping-Pong team that come over here, and he [Nixon]
called it Ping-Pong diplomacy. God works in mysterious
ways at times.
D: Do you see the future of nuclear freeze of some sort as
good at this point?
M: I think that right now, before this year is out, we are
going to have a disarmament treaty [involving] middle-
range missiles and maybe short-range missiles, and it
is going to be interesting to see how they work on the
verification of it. I think verification is important
because we need trust. Unless we can build trust, we
cannot go beyond that. It has a lot of possibilities,
in my judgment, for good stuff, except everybody is so
tired now of disarmament.
We are bankrupting our nation financially and
economically. Our industrial infrastructure is dead,
our trade balance is horrendous, [and] our national
debt is staggering. Here we are yelling: "We are
number one! America is back." And we are bankrupt!
We owe more money now than we owed all our lives put
together. Our budget deficiency is greater than all
former administrations put together. Madness!
D: Are there particular organizations that are in the
forefront of the peace movement, or is it a nebulous
M: No. I read the other day--it is interesting--[that]
there have been a proliferation of peace organizations
to staggering proportions. There is a book in
Washington that lists institutions and organizations,
and when I saw it many years ago, about 1975 or 1976,
there must have been about seventy peace organizations.
Now there must be thousands. I cannot tell you how
many there are. It is a grassroots movement, which is
very important to remember. This is not something
somebody has created from the top down. It is a
grassroots movement. People organize in different
ways. There are a countless number of peace
organizations--some small, some big. I think the
church has had a great impact. There is a great human
outcry now in this country.
There is a great deal of self-searching because all the
major denominations have lost members while the
Southern Baptists have gained a great number of
members. One of the reasons for that is that the major
denominations have been lifting up the peace agenda.
The Roman Catholic bishop, the Methodists, the
Presbyterians, the Lutherans, and Jesus said: "What
does it matter if you gain the world and lose your
soul? What would you give in exchange for your soul?"
So many of us in the Christian church are saying it is
more important to save our souls than to have large
churches. Of course we remember that Jesus too, when
he died, died with that cry and that sob pent up in his
throat, "Will you too go away?" Success is never a
mark of integrity or God's providence. God has always
worked with minorities. So we never lose sight of
D: If you had to recommend a book or two books to somebody
wanting to learn more about the peace movement or to
get them thinking in that direction, what are one or
two books you might recommend?
M: I would recommend the Bible, of course, but I have to
be careful, because some people read in the Bible all
kinds of hatred and all kinds of antagonism. I cannot
think of any one book. I have read so much and some
D: Has there been a particular individual that has
influenced your thinking besides Jesus Christ as far as
M: Yes, there have been individuals. [Professor] Robert
McAfee Brown has been one, and Bonhoeffer has been
D: That is Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
M: Yes. And Dr. Paul Scherer. I have read a great deal
of Dr. William Sloan Coffin in New York. I think he is
right now, perhaps, the most influential theologian in
the field of peace. The writings of Gandhi have been
important to me. Of course, my background in
philosophy [has contributed to my thinking].
D: To change the question just a little bit, of the recent
American presidents, have there been any for whom you
have felt a special affinity?
M: Well, you know I was very close to John Kennedy. I
felt that had Kennedy lived, we might have seen some
different path, for example, in terms of the Peace
Corps. I read a story the other day that just before
he died, he met with a French reporter--I forget his
name now--who was going from the United States to Cuba.
Fidel Castro tells this story. And he [Kennedy] asked
that reporter to carry a message to Fidel Castro to see
if there was any way they could begin a rapprochement.
His concept of the world, his erudition [was great].
There is a lot of [negative] stuff coming out about him
now. It may be true. I have no way of judging his
womanizing and things like that. But he was greatly
respected. Whenever I travel in Latin American, no
matter what home you visit, I [almost] always found a
picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall. There are
streets named for John F. Kennedy in every major
country in this world. Somehow he lit a light or a
candle. And he stood up to [Nikita] Khrushchev, but he
never humiliated Khrushchev. He never made him lose
face. I think the coterie of people he had around him
was so exclusive--able historians, able people--which
is far from what we have now. George Will [syndicated
columnist] said the other day that the people around
our present president are the most inferior group of
people he has ever seen in any presidency.
I think I had great affinity for Jimmy Carter. He has
had a bum rap, but every place you go in this world
[you will find people that respect him]. I went to
Haiti one time and found a marvelous story where his
emphasis of human rights really lifted up that aspect
for many people who cared little for human rights. We
had a kind of a vindication of him lately, because the
present president does not know too many details, and
everybody claims that Jimmy Carter knew too much. But
he was a decent man. I remember when I gave that
prayer at the library in Boston. The service was over
and he was leaving, and everybody had to stay put till
he leaves. But he stopped in front of me and he said,
"Reverend, did you write that prayer?" I said: "Yes,
sir. I wrote part of it with you in mind." He said,
"May I have a copy of it?" And I said, "Yes, but I
would like to hand deliver it to you." He took his
card--I still have his card--and wrote a name and said,
"Please contact Miss Lincoln, my secretary." So when I
got back to Washington, I called her, and she said,
"Well, he is so busy, you just better mail it." So I
never got to see him in the White House.
In retrospect we see now many things that Eisenhower
did. I voted for Eisenhower, too, by the way. But in
retrospect, he has become wiser all the time with his
warning about the military-industrial complex with that
marvelous statement he made about governments getting
out of the way some day and letting people make peace.
So I have a lot of respect for Eisenhower in
retrospect. I had respect for him when I voted for
I think [Lyndon B.] Johnson was a victim of his own
imperial presidency, as was Nixon.
D: One question has been just a little bit off the wall.
What do you feel is the future of South Africa
regarding peace or a peaceful transition, and possibly
about America's involvement there?
M: I really do not know, Dave. One of the things a
minister has to be careful [about] is to know he is not
an expert in everything. I do know Latin America very
well because I have read [about] it all my life and
[have] studied it and traveled it. I do not know
[about South Africa]. I just see right now so much
inflexibility that it looks like there is going to have
to be bloodshed. Unfortunately, it will be a large,
large tragedy and this country, as I sense it, has kind
of absolved South Africa. There have been quiet
reports about the way that Israel has been a surrogate
for us with regard to South Africa in some things. I
do not know if there is another [Marine Lt. Col.]
Oliver North someplace in our administration doing
things with South Africa, but what it looks like to me
from here is that they will not avoid bloodshed.
Everybody is so entrenched now, and we will just
probably watch it.
D: [I have] one other question, possibly two. What do you
see as the relationship between peace and justice?
M: It is a fundamental relationship. As a matter of fact,
I did a study last year that I preached here. The word
"justice" occurs in the Bible many, many times, and
every time you find it in the Bible, near it or in the
context you find the word "peace." Or if you take the
word "peace" in the bible and trace it, you always find
it related to justice. There is a passage in Psalms,
Psalm 85, that says, "Peace and justice have kissed
each other." Or if you want to translate more loosely,
"[Peace and justice] are making love to one another."
So there really can be no peace without justice, and
that is why a lot of the stuff that is going on now is
based on human rights, because you cannot have peace
[without human justice]. Peace is not like the peace
of the cemetery. Peace is only peace if it finds
meaning in the midst of human experience; therefore, it
has to be based on justice. Injustice leads to anger
and to revolutions and to war.
D: You have mentioned a few things that you have written.
Have there been any books or articles?
M: There has been one book that I wrote about ten years
ago, and I have written a chapter in this book. I must
have written hundreds of articles. I have been
published in many, many places.
D: What was the name of the book?
M: It is called To Serve the Present Age. I must have
about 10,000 copies left. I will be glad to give you
D: Thank you. Anything else you would like to comment on?
Anything regarding your life, or anything that you feel
like you want your life to stand for?
M: No. Maybe this would be a good concluding statement.
I have some anger at the church because the church
seems to be producing a type of professional that is so
professional that it stands for nothing. One of
[William] Faulkner's novels has one of the characters
say that the reason the church bell does not ring is
because the preachers have moved the clapper from the
bell. There is a profound sense, in my judgment, of
bankruptcy when ministers see the church as getting on
an escalator and the Holy Spirit always calling them to
a bigger church and a higher salary. That seems to me
to be utterly incongruous to the New Testament. Also,
there are these new kinds of evangelists, these media
hypes that have mansions and jet airplanes and
coiffured hair and rings and watches and jewelry--and
do it all for Jesus. I heard Jim Bakker say someplace
that the reason he does that is because they preach the
Gospel that if you follow Jesus and sacrifice for
Jesus, He will bless you, and they [the evangelists]
have to model that idea. So the church has come into
the hands of some managers who are very self-seeking,
either crass like the evangelists or professional like
It seems to me that the only thing any one of us in the
ministry can hope for is to be at the end of your
ministry and still escape with your integrity. There
is an obscure passage in Jeremiah that says: "Seeketh
thou great things for yourself. Seek them now. But if
you can escape with your integrity as a prey, then you
have done all that is expected of you." So as I look
at the remaining years of my ministry, I hope that when
I finish my ministry I can say that integrity has been
a prey that I have sought after and I have won.
D: Well, to conclude, let me ask you a couple of
clarification things. What was your mother's name?
M: Well, I will give you her maiden name. She married
again. She buried two husbands. Her maiden [name] was
Dulce (which means candy) Maria Escarza. Then, of
course, she married my father and she became Meza.
When my father died she married; she died with the
name, Dulce Maria Del Rio.
D: And what was your uncle's name?
M: Antonio Escarza.
D: And the pastor of the church?
M: Walter Passiglia.
D: And what church was that in?
M: The Ybor City Presbyterian Mission.
D: You mentioned a Dr. Abernathy. What was his first
M: Dr. George Abernathy, professor of philosophy at
D: And Governor Faubas?
M: Orville Faubas.
D: And John Kennedy's go-between, James Wine?
M: James Wine.
D: And another name, Dan Poling.
M: Dan Poling. He was a pastor in a church in
D: I think that pretty much covers it. I really
appreciate your talking to me.
M: I am happy to do this. Will I get a copy of this, you
D: Yes, you will get a full transcript of the copy, and it
will be bound in a little folder.
M: Because I may want to do something with it. That is
how you write books now. You dictate them, and then
you read them and correct them.
D: Well, we hope to be a service to you also. I really
appreciate it. This is going to be very helpful, and
it is going to be a welcome addition to the archives.
M: Well, I hope it is helpful to you.
D: Oh, very much so. Thank you for the interview.