Webster’s dictionary defines the word “hero” as someone of great strength or ability. Someone who is admired for his achievements, possessing noble qualities, who is self-sacrificing and courageous. Poet Maya Angelou, reflecting on heroic personality traits, wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said…people will forget what you did….but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the living embodiment of the word hero. It wasn’t only his thinking or hiswords. Itwasn’t just his actions or accomplishments, big and small.WhatmadeDr. King a true hero was his personal code of honor and his innate decency. His moral compass was based on faith, unswayed by polls or driven by self-aggrandizement.Although a believer of nonviolence, hewas a relentlesswarrior,whose fight for equality was based on the fundamental principle that human dignity, respect fromothers and self-respect are not privileges for a few, but basic rights that should be enjoyed by all.
Dr. King is remembered as a hero because he led by example and inspired others to do the same, memorably saying: “If a man is called a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets as well as that, and all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and say, here lives a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”
Historian Christopher P. Moore delivering his remarks.
The Teamsters Retiree Division hosted a program on January 12 to honor the legacy of Dr. King. Retired Commissioner of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Christopher P.Moore, an eminent historian and Curator Emeritus at theNewYork Public Library Schomburg Center for Black Culture, gave an insightful presentation highlighting Dr. King’s work.Many of Local 237’s retireeswho attended lived through the turbulent times of Dr. King’s fight for justice and equality. Many participated in themarches, demonstrations and rallieswhich ultimately resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Several offered the following recollections:
|Sarah Frierson participated in the historic march on Washington, D.C., in 1963. However, this was not the first time she en countered Dr. King. Sarah met him when he came to Harlem in 1958, where he was stabbed during a visit to sign copies of his book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For Sarah, what was most memorable about Dr. King was his stand in opposition to the Vietnam War. Her husband was an Army career officer. “That really hit home. He raised issues, like Agent Orange, that no one was addressing. I think we, especially young Americans, need to re-read Dr. King’s words, and understand that, although he spoke decades ago, his words are relevant now as well.”|
|Carolyn Harrell met Dr. King in the 1960’s when he came to New York City to help with the struggle to decentralize public schools so that parents and community members could have greater input in the education of local students. He spent one week working from a Presbyterian church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Carolyn recalled that “not only was Dr. King a dynamic speaker, but he was very warm and inspiring. He gave us encouragement to continue on.”|
|Pernell Hepbourn saw Dr. King at the Canaan Baptist Church on 116 Street in Harlem, where he came to install the new pastor, Rev.Wyatt T.Walker. Pernell admits that “I was a young boy and really didn’t get the full significance of Dr. King’s words at the time, but I remember how the crowd lit up as he spoke so powerfully and movingly. I knew something great was happening. Incredibly, the nextmonth,Dr. King was assassinated.”|
|Deborah James said that Dr. King’s words were for everybody — directed to people around the world. “His message was: Don’t discriminate. He did not speak to just one segment of people. His views and actions were for the benefit of all.”|
|Aureola King recalled that “Back in the day, we learned in school the words on the Statue of Liberty about ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ which instilled in us what America was supposed to stand for. Because of that, I participated inmany of the New York City protest rallies on behalf of equality and ending the Vietnam war. I also went to Washington, D.C., in the ’80’s to demonstrate with the Teamsters, and although I thought I would never have to do it again, I joined the Women’s March on Saturday.”|
|Carolyn Whitley participated in many of Dr. King’s rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963. She said that “when we arrived in the nation’s capital, we saw all of the police, who seemed like they were anticipating big problems. But it was totally peaceful and that gave me an awesome feeling. Then, when Dr. King spoke, I thought: ‘Oh, my God’ I hope his message gets through around the world.”|