I only met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once. It was on February 8, 1968, the same year he was assassinated. He was in Cleveland, Ohio conducting a voter registration drive on behalf of Carl Stokes, who became the first black mayor of a major American city.
Dr. King had been invited to the home of industrialist, Edward Lamb, for a fund raiser and chit chat with ministers, doctors, and lawyers from the black community and others. I was fortunate to be among the invitees. Dr. King came over in a small, private plane. And when he landed on the tarmac of the Toledo airport, several cars drove up. The security was not as tight it is now.
Two of the black preachers, Rev. A.L. Roach, who was president of the Toledo chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, took Dr. King by his right arm, and Rev. Elijah Hicklin took him by his left arm, and urged him to hurry. “There are 35 reporters waiting on you,” they told him as they grabbed him, but he told them to wait. But they said, “Dr. King, everybody is waiting on you and we are late.” Then he looked over and saw all of those poor people standing by the fence, and who had not been invited to Mr. Lamb’s mansion to meet and greet him, and said, “I want to spend time with the people who made me Dr. King.” He knew as I knew, that the invitees to the reception at Mr. Lamb’s’ mansion would not follow him to the nearest stop sign. But the people leaning against the fence would.
My respect for Dr. King was cemented, not by his famous “ I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, or his Mountain Top speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, but it was when I saw him walk over to the fence and hug and kiss the poor people who made him “Dr. King.” I then proceeded to drive my car to the Industrialist’s Mansion in Maumee, Ohio where I had the opportunity to talk with him about Attorney Fred D. Gray, who was his Montgomery Lawyer, and a mutual friend.
My admiration and respect for Dr. King was not because of what he said, and how, but because of what he did in Montgomery, in Birmingham, in Selma, in Chicago, and in Memphis. Yes, he marched. He didn’t lead parades. He led marches. And he always marched for something or against something. He marched for open housing and against racial discrimination. He marched against desegregated schools, and for open enrollment. He marched for desegregated restrooms, lunch counters, and water fountains, and schools whose doors needed to be open its doors to all, whatever their race or religion, creed or color, or national origin.
People who simply walk, get nothing done but exercise for themselves. That is what distinguished Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi from the rest of us. They always had a cause for which they either marched for or against.
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