Retired Everett teacher gives voice to Martin Luther King Jr.’s cause

Born in 1936, Armelda Brack hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be a Tennessee schoolgirl before the civil-rights movement.

In her small town of Dyersburg, black and white children went to separate schools. “I had all black teachers,” she said. “While we were raising cotton, white students were in school.”

School is where Brack spent her professional life. She taught for 37 years, 30 of them as a third-grade teacher at Everett’s Emerson Elementary School. For a time, she was one of only two black teachers in the Everett School District, the other being Shirley Walthall.

She and her late husband, Joe Nathan Brack, came to Everett in 1968. He was in the Air Force at Paine Field. She recalls that when she was hired at Emerson, the staff was told a black teacher was coming — and that they could transfer.

“The staff at Emerson was wonderful. I always felt comfortable there,” said Brack, 71.

She’s not one to dwell on old hurts. Having undoubtedly encountered racism, she’ll only say she sees it as the other person’s problem, not hers. There had to be struggles for the young woman who earned a scholarship to Central State College in Ohio, which was integrated.

Now she has a master’s degree in education from Western Washington University. Brack doesn’t spend much time looking back at shameful inequalities. Yet, every year she lends her voice, time and love of community to help spread the enduring message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Since its start in 1986, she’s been part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Choir. The group will sing today at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday Celebration, scheduled for 4 p.m. at Everett’s First United Methodist Church, 3530 Colby Ave.

With its theme “Lest We Forget,” the event will include a youth program presented by City of Refuge Christian Church of Marysville and speaker Georgia McDade, a Seattle educator. Brack is one of three organizers, along with event chairman Frederick Bletson and Mary Ellen Wood, interim executive director of the Interfaith Association of Northwest Washington.

Brack’s church, Second Baptist Church of Everett, started the event in 1986, three years after President Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday into federal law. Even back then, her church was too small to hold the crowd. That first celebration was held at First Baptist Church of Everett. It has now grown to include contributors from around the region.

The program has constants, year after year. There are young people involved. Guest speakers share thoughts on King’s achievements and dreams for a peaceful and just world.

Always, there is music, including “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” Written in 1899 by poet and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson, the song has been described as an African-American national anthem.

The choir practices Saturdays, with members coming from as far as Tacoma. Under the direction of the Rev. Gregory Jackson of Marysville, the group has been singing “I Will Worry No More,” “Jesus Will Never Fail,” “Free At Last” and “We Shall Overcome.”

Recently elected president of the women’s department of the North Pacific Baptist Convention, Brack also sings in a choir associated with that body, and she’s a member of her own Second Baptist Church choir.

As a teacher, Brack organized Martin Luther King Jr. events at Emerson Elementary. “Every teacher was involved. We’d do readings, artwork and sing songs. It was a wonderful time,” she said.

She’s retired now, but not her voice — nor the message it carries.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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