In August 1963 as a 29-year-old pastor of a rural New Jersey parish, Charles stood with other civil rights activists in the front row adjacent to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his now famous “I have a Dream” speech after the March on Washington. In the December 2014 issue of the Bath County Journal, Charles recalled “People from across the country came to rejoice in a common cause. You could hear a pin drop when Dr. King spoke.”
The following year as the chairman of the Christian Action Committee for the Reformed Church of America, Charles played a key role in persuading Sen. Everett Dirksen, from his home state of Illinois, to introduce a modified bill that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In the spring of 1965 Charles was there when Martin Luther King led thousands to the steps of the capitol building in Montgomery, Ala., following a five-day march from Selma.
It is not surprising that Charles became a civil rights activist with his family’s connection to the “Great Emancipator.” His grandmother attended Lincoln’s funeral and took a small bouquet of spring flowers from the gravesite as a keepsake. His great-grandfather was a personal friend of Lincoln’s when he practiced law and was one of the pastors who officiated at the slain president’s funeral and burial in Springfield.
During his ministry, Charles continued to be an advocate for social justice. One of his many assignments included the women’s health project in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Charles officially retired in 1999, but has taken an active role volunteering at the Akron Area Interfaith Council, where he serves as a board member, started a speaker’s bureau and produced a video. He is a member of two choirs, teaches classes and plans programs for senior organizations. Charles and wife Rieneke live in Akron, Ohio.