I Tried to Change the World
I WAS born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in June 1954. I was the 5th child of 11. My parents were devout Catholics and as such sent us to parochial school. I was an altar boy in church, got up early many mornings to go to Mass, and from a very early age aspired to become a Catholic priest and to serve God and man. So when I graduated from the eighth grade, I entered St. Augustine’s Divine Word Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Once there, I discovered that the priests were not as holy as I had thought. I saw lying, profanity, and drunkenness. One priest had homosexual interests. Another was visited frequently by the niece of another priest, and she later became pregnant with his baby. The solution to that was his transfer to another religious institution. Disillusionment set in, and my ambition to become a priest died, but my desire to serve God survived.
I lived in the seminary and worshiped there, but I attended a predominantly white high school. There I experienced racism. Not that I hadn’t been victimized before by discrimination in its many guises, especially those ever-present reminders of my “inferior status,” the signs by water fountains and rest rooms saying “White Only” and “Colored Only” and the racial slurs scrawled on buildings, such as “No niggers allowed.”
But in high school, it was on a more personal level. The derogatory name-calling, the endless stream of racial jokes, the favoritism shown white students, the discrimination against blacks—it left me bitter. Some of the outnumbered black students felt it necessary to carry knives or razors, just in case. I became involved in activist issues, such as leading boycotts.
‘How Can People Do This to People?’
In my 11th year in high school, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I became totally absorbed in that book. At night, after lights were to be turned off, I took the book to bed and with a flashlight read it under the blankets. I also read books about the African slave trade. I had books with diagrams describing the slave ships, showing how blacks were packed in like sardines; when one of them would die, he would just be thrown overboard to be eaten by the sharks that followed those ships. Such things were burned into my memory. Asleep at night, I’d see those things happening to people and wonder, ‘How can people do this to people?’ I built up a hatred for white people.
By the time I was in college and the Black Panthers came on campus, I was ripe for them. They believed that power came from the barrel of a gun and that there had to be bloodshed in America between the races. I shared their view. They wanted me to join their ranks, but I didn’t. I sold their Black Panther newspaper, I did drugs with them, but I could not share their atheism. I still believed in God, though disillusioned with Catholicism because of the immorality and hypocrisy of the priests in the seminary. It was at this time that I seriously considered committing suicide by jumping off the Mississippi River bridge.
Shortly after that, a Black Muslim came on campus, selling the newspaper Muhammad Speaks. We talked about the plight of the black man, and I began going to Black Muslim meetings. They hated white people—they were the ones that introduced me to the idea that the white man was the Devil. No, not that he is just devilish, or diabolic, but that he is, in fact, the Devil—which explained why the whites committed such atrocities against the black people. What did they do to the American Indian and to blacks in the slave trade? Killed millions, that’s what!
Surely Not All Could Be Devils
So I became a Black Muslim. I renounced my last name, Dugué being French, and I substituted an X. I became Virgil X. As a Black Muslim, I was very zealous in selling their newspaper and in other activities. I felt that this was the right way to serve God. But after a period of time with the Black Muslims, I started to question some of their teachings, some of their practices—even the idea that the white man was the Devil.
True, I had had bad experiences with whites in my life, but were all of them categorically devils? I thought about the white basketball coach who was sympathetic toward blacks. Then there was a young white lawyer who represented me in a discrimination case against the New Orleans School Board. There were other decent whites I had known in my lifetime—surely not all could be devils.
Also, I reflected on the resurrection. The Black Muslims taught that when you die, you’re finished—that was it! But I reasoned, ‘If God could create man from dust, surely he can resurrect him from the grave.’ Then there is the financial aspect of the Black Muslims. I was selling 300 Muhammad Speaks newspapers a week, 1,200 a month, bringing the money to them. The dues we had to pay. So much of the preaching revolved around money. I was getting about four hours of sleep a night. I was devoting my entire life to the Black Muslims. And now doubts were growing in my mind about some of their teachings. All of that was going around in my head, was weighing on my mind.
One day in December 1974 at my secular job at a community center, all these thoughts began racing back and forth through my mind. It was a feeling I’d never had before. I thought I was going out of my mind. I had to get out fast before something bad happened. I had to have some breathing room, some time to reflect on where my life was taking me. I told those at the center that I had to leave for the day. I gave them no explanation.
I Begged God to Show Me the Truth
I left work and hurried home. I got down on my knees and prayed to God. I prayed for the truth. For the first time, I begged God to show me the truth, show me the organization that had it. Previously I had prayed for a way to help black people, for the right racist organization that hated whites. But now I just prayed for the truth, whatever it was, wherever it was. “If you are Allah, help me. If you are not Allah, whoever you are, please help me. Help me find the truth.”
By this time I was again using my proper name, Virgil Dugué. I was still living with my mother and father in New Orleans. When I awakened the next day after my fervently praying to God, I found a Watchtower magazine in the house. I don’t know how it got there. It was unusual because I had never seen any literature from Jehovah’s Witnesses in the house before. I asked if any in the family knew where it came from. Nobody did. It must have been slipped under the door.
It was the December 15, 1974, issue. On the cover there was a picture of Mary and Joseph and of Jesus in the manger—white people! And the question: “Is This the Way to Honor Jesus Christ?” I thought, ‘They are going to answer yes and say you should worship Jesus.’ If it had been any other issue of the magazine, I would probably have tossed it aside. But I opened it up and scanned the first article and realized that they were saying that Jesus is not God and that you should not worship Jesus. To me that was a revelation! I had thought that all the sects of Christendom worshiped Jesus and that all of them thought that Jesus was God.
But I knew from being a Black Muslim that Jesus was not God. They read many scriptures showing that Jesus was not God, including the one at John 14:28: “The Father is greater than I am.” They taught that Jesus was a prophet, and Elijah Muhammad, a leader of the Black Muslims, was supposed to be the last prophet. So I knew Jesus was not God, and when I read that in this article, it was as if I had thrown off weights. By the time I got to the end of the article, I sat there speechless. I did not know what to think. I wasn’t convinced that this was the truth. But for the first time, I realized that not all so-called Christian religions celebrated Christmas or other pagan holidays. And since I had prayed for the truth, I thought, ‘Could this be it? Is this the answer to my prayer?’
In the phone book, I looked up all the so-called Christian churches. I called them and simply asked, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” They would say yes, and I would hang up. Finally I was left with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Could this be an answer to my prayer? I had never listened to them. Perhaps it was time I did. I telephoned their Kingdom Hall. It was a white man who answered. He wanted to come to my home to study the Bible with me. But I was cautious. I said no. He was white; he could still be the devil.
I Asked Questions, I Got Answers
So we talked over the telephone. For the first time in my life, I felt satisfied. I called him daily, asked more questions, got more answers. He gave me proof. He backed up what he said with scriptures from the Bible. I was impressed. It was the first time anyone had used the Bible to answer my questions. A ray of hope began to dawn inside me. I got a New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures that had a small concordance in the back. I pored over it and learned many more truths.
A month later, I moved to Dallas, Texas. After I got settled, I called the local Kingdom Hall. The one who answered picked me up and took me to a meeting at the hall. There I was introduced to a Witness who agreed to study with me. I went to his home for the study. I felt spiritually starved, so we studied three times a week, several hours each study. His name was Curtis. I would be waiting on his doorstep when he came home from work. He was so patient with me. I did not realize that the home Bible studies were usually conducted once a week and for only one hour, and Curtis never told me. He started studying with me in January or February of 1975; we finished The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life book in May of that year.
Soon after, I returned to New Orleans, associated with the Witnesses at the Kingdom Hall, and began going from house to house, publishing the good news of the Kingdom. I felt that since I had been so zealous as a Black Muslim, spending 100 or 150 hours a month selling Muhammad Speaks newspapers and getting only four hours sleep, I had to be zealous as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So besides my studying, I preached and conducted many Bible studies in the homes of others. In fact, I recall that on one Service Meeting program, the chairman asked me:
“How much time did you put in field service last month?”
“About a hundred hours.”
“How many Bible studies are you conducting?”
There were whispers throughout the audience at these high figures, but I wondered, ‘Did I say something wrong? Am I not doing enough?’
My Aspirations Fulfilled
I progressed to the point of dedication and got baptized on December 21, 1975. The following year Jehovah blessed me with a wonderful wife, Brenda. In fact, I first met Brenda the day I got baptized. She was a full-time publisher of the Kingdom then and continued to be one after we were married. Two years later, in 1978, I started full-time publishing with her. Two years after that, in 1980, Brenda and I were invited to become members of the Bethel Family in Brooklyn, New York, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are still serving Jehovah there.
When I look back on my life, I think of my young years when I aspired to be a Catholic priest and serve God and man. I reflect on my search for purpose, first with the Black Panthers and then with the Black Muslims, and I remember the days of disillusionment with these movements, just as disillusionment had come earlier with the priesthood. But through it all, my faith in God never faltered. I thank Jehovah that he rescued me from false religious and political starts and put me on the road to truth and life.
Finally, my youthful aspirations to serve God and man have been fulfilled!—As told by Virgil Dugué.
[Picture on page 23]
Virgil and Brenda Dugué