The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

January 22, 2013

Estes: Move forward with understanding

Opera star speaks of King’s faith, wisdom, change through non-violence

OTTUMWA — Simon Estes sat quietly through each performance, soft hands folded and a necklace reading “Try God” gleaming on his chest.

When he took his seat on the Ottumwa High School auditorium stage Monday night, his booming bass-baritone voice rang through the room, silencing the audience except for bursts of appraisal during his speech honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Estes, now a world-renowned opera singer, was born in 1938 in Centerville and lived with discrimination throughout his childhood.

“When I was growing up, we were called ‘colored’ in those days,” he said. “Later we became Negro with a little ‘N,’ then a capital ‘N.’ Then we became black. Then we became Afro-Americans. Then African-Americans. I often said, ‘I don’t know what I am, but I do know I am a child of God’s.’”

Growing up in Centerville, black children were not allowed to swim in the swimming pool with white children. Eventually, the rules were changed to allow black children to swim in the pool from 9-11 a.m. on Saturdays.

“But once I got out, they put more disinfectant in the water,” Estes said. “I didn’t know this until I was writing my autobiography ... about 12 years ago.”

Estes would come home and tell his mother how a white boy had hit him, or called him “the N word.”

“My mother said, ‘Get on your knees and pray for that boy,’” Estes said. “When you’re 10 years old, you say, ‘Wait a minute, mother, you don’t understand. He hit me. He called me that name.’”

In 1965 Estes started singing in opera houses around the world — but not in the United States.

In tears, he called his mother and told her he wasn’t allowed to sing in opera houses in his own country.

“My wise mother said, ‘Son, remember what I told you when you were a little boy,’” Estes said. “‘You get down on your knees and you pray for those people.’”

Today, Estes has sung in every major opera house in the U.S.

“Martin Luther King will always live until he’s with Jesus because his spirit has not died,” Estes said. “His body, yes, has been taken away from us and his wonderful wife and children ... He will be someday in Heaven with Jesus and all those beautiful angels up there and he won’t have to worry anymore about fighting for justice, equality.”

Estes said his mother and father taught him never to hate.

“Centerville was no different from Ottumwa, Albia, Bloomfield, cities in Nebraska, any place in the United States,” Estes said.

Estes was a student at the University of Iowa in 1963 when King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.

“Martin was a man that really taught the example that Jesus told us: love our enemies,” Estes said. “And as Jesus said, ‘If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek but don’t fight back.’ Martin was a man who believed absolutely in non-violence, even though his life was taken because of violence and because of hate.”

An hour before Estes was to sing at a performance in Canada, he learned of King’s assassination.

“I was just dumbfounded, as I’m sure all of us were,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do that evening. It was too late to cancel the concert.”

Estes said he changed his repertoire at the last moment, because he “did not feel like singing happy songs.”

Estes said he was grateful that so many young people came out Monday night to remember King.

“He was a man who would have been very, very, very proud to realize that we have reached a certain area that a man of color could be elected president of the United States, not just once, but re-elected,” he said. “It demonstrates how far we’ve come in the United States that people not judge somebody by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, their values, their principles, their faith.

“I believe that God made us all with different colors, different shapes of our eyes and different nationalities to test the true character of each individual. Are we able to love someone even if they don’t look the way we look?”

Estes said he did not think he would see “a man of color, a woman of color, or a woman, period” elected as president in his lifetime.

“I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was put on this earth to help our great country become even a greater country,” Estes said. “Let us all move forward this evening with understanding in our hearts and remember what this man did.”

Text Only
Local News
  • 0802 OTT 73 Annual Golf Classic 73rd Annual Golf Classic OTTUMWA — There were a few records broken at the 73rd Annual Chamber Golf Classic Friday. "We had a record amount of people, and we also had a record amount of sponsors," said Tim Kurtz, executive director of the Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce. Fri

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Beach Task Force formation under consideration OTTUMWA — From the establishment of a Beach Task Force, to public hearings, to a discussion of open meetings rules and training, the Ottumwa City Council will have a full pate of items to digest during its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The council will

    August 1, 2014

  • Sewer works starts on Glenwood OTTUMWA — The 900 block of Glenwood Avenue will be closed to traffic starting Tuesday, Aug. 5. Boitnott Enterprises will be closing that block of Glenwood for a repair of a sewer lateral. Motorists should seek other routes around the work zone. Thi

    August 1, 2014

  • Emergency Management Coordinator leaving OTTUMWA — Wapello County Supervisors are hoping to compromise and assign a tax sale certificate to property owners within the city of Ottumwa. On Tuesday, the board will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the third-floor meeting room to discuss a variety of issues

    August 1, 2014

  • CAUTION: Drivers will notice delays on Quincy Ave. OTTUMWA — Beginning Monday, drivers on Quincy Avenue will start to notice the beginning of a major reconstruction project in South Ottumwa. The right lane of northbound traffic on Quincy Avenue, from the car wash located near the Quincy Place Mall's

    August 1, 2014

  • Transfer of West Nile Virus First reports of West Nile Virus coming in OTTUMWA — Three cases of West Nile Virus have already been reported in the state of Iowa this summer, but the timing isn't much out of the ordinary, local officials say. Current surveillance data shows one case each in Clay, Monona and Woodbury count

    August 1, 2014 2 Photos

  • WWI outbreak stranded Ottumwan in Paris

    OTTUMWA — Being stuck in Paris isn’t the worst thing in the world. The City of Light has always been a key stop for Americans traveling to Europe. It’s a city of culture, capitol of a world power. But Howell Cresswell, an Ottumwan in Paris, wanted no

    August 1, 2014

  • File.png Pleasant start to August

    OTTUMWA — Seasonal temperatures and a slight risk of rain herald the arrival of August in southeast Iowa.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Graham's presentation A sweet history lesson OTTUMWA — In one of the most popular monthly presentations the Wapello County Historical Society has ever hosted, it was standing-room only to hear the history of Graham Milk and Ice Cream Company and try some of the popular product. A landmark in Ot

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • Ready, set, shop! OTTUMWA — Iowa's government says businesses must participate in the Tax-Free Weekend this Friday and Saturday. Store manager Greg Martin isn't complaining. "It’ll be much busier [than typical weekends]. Back to school is the second busiest season nex

    July 31, 2014

Photo reprints