David W. Briddell

David Briddell is a retired United Methodist minister – serving forty years of combined ministry as a local church minister in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and as an executive with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and the Nation Council of Churches of Christ – both headquartered in New York City.

In his work at the General Board of Global Ministries, David was responsible for the production of many films and audiovisual resources which supported the agency’s mission study themes and other mission education endeavors. He was the producer of an award-winning film “Let the Church Say Amen.” Later, he worked as an Assistant General Secretary for Administration in the Division of Education and Cultivation.

His work with the National Council of Churches was with overseas churches and agencies, helping to develop communication and education programs; he traveled extensively across the world to provide financial support, consultation and other services. Upon retirement, he was elected an Honorary Life member of the World Association for Christian Communication, and also to the United Methodist Association of Communicators.

In retirement he has researched and published his family history; he also worked with Dr. Clara Small, professor of African-American History at Salisbury University, Maryland, to research and publish the book “Men of Color, To Arms – Manumitted Slaves and Freed Blacks from the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland Who Served in the Civil War.”

He is married to Jane Brice Briddell; he has daughter – Jocelyn D. Briddell, and a grand-daughter, Syeeda Briddell.

After graduation from Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland, he studied at Boston University’s School of Theology from 1952 – 1955. There he met and became friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., who was studying for his doctorate. Briddell was part of a student club which Martin began, called “The Dialectical Society.” Members were African American graduate students who met to discuss papers they had prepared; they would also enjoy a meal together, laugh and talk about current events. Then followed more serious discussions focusing on discrimination and the issues of segregation – and this pre-dated Martin’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movements. However, there was one moment when the group was in session that David clearly recalls….suddenly, in the middle of the informal discussion, King said something like: “Well, boys, I had a big funeral last weekend. We buried Jim.” “Jim who?” someone asked. “Jim Crow,” King replied. Everyone broke out in laughter, realizing that Martin was joking abut the slang name for segregation. Because segregation then was still a firm reality, the experience did not have much meaning at that time. But, Martin was able to foresee the death of that system and in announcing its death before it had occurred, showed that segregation no longer had any power over him.

While he was a student, in addition to attending student parties, Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a very visible part of the African American community in Boston: he was eager to preach in their churches, he lived in the community, he was known in barbershops, he dined in restaurants, and even “hung out” on street corners.

In 1955 Martin graduated from Boston University with a doctorate in Systematic Theology, and David with a Master’s Degree of Divinity. The speaker at their graduation was Senator John F. Kennedy, later to become the President of the United States. Many of Martin’s friends presumed he would accept a position at a college or university, or follow in his father’s church in Atlanta, Georgia. Instead he was appointed as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. David Briddell was ordained a minister in the Delaware Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, appointed to Shiloh Methodist Church in Crisfield, Maryland. Two years later David was appointed to Emmanuel Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the Washington, DC March for the Civil Rights Movement. Briddell was treasurer for the African American ministers in Philadelphia who organized an event at Temple University to raise money for the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. David shares that it was a wonderful moment for he and Martin to be together again.

The last time Martin Luther King, Jr. and David Briddell were close to each other was very different – it was at the time of Martin’s death. In April 1968 David was attending a work-related meeting in Atlanta, Ga., when he heard the announcement that Martin had been killed in Memphis, Tennessee. David felt he could not stay for the rest of the meeting and decided to return home. Did some-one direct him? The next morning, as he walked to his airplane in the Atlanta airport, a plane from Memphis arrived and he saw the casket carrying Martin Luther King’s body unloaded and wheeled into the airport. It was a heart-breaking moment – but as David says – he was able to say goodbye to his special friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this reflection written in 2015, Briddell writes about his time at Boston University, specifically about the “Dialectical Society” student group with famed fellow member, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.