Civil rights activist honors MLK’s memory

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Martin Luther King’s voice boomed from the loudspeaker and video footage of his marches on Selma, Ala. and Washington, D.C. played in the background as the crowd filed into the auditorium to hear his disciple, Julian Bond, speak.

Bond, one of the leaders in black Americans’ struggle for civil rights in the 1960s, was the guest speaker Friday at the 31st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service sponsored by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

“We honor this man who was like other teachers. He is kept in death and memory for whites and blacks like he was never in life,” Bond said. “We honor him because of what he means in our imperfect and selective memories.”

King was, he said, “the major figure of the period, the spokesman for nonviolence, the man able to articulate to whites what blacks wanted and for blacks what would be required if freedom was to be returned.”

But Bond said that is only half of who King was. He said the current image of King — whose birthday is celebrated Jan. 21 — is just a “blurry picture of who the whole man was.” King, he said, was larger than the civil rights movement, while the movement was much larger than King.

As a disciple of King, Bond, 62, has been at the forefront of the civil rights movement since 1960 when he was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Since then he has been an outspoken advocate of rights for black Americans.

Today, Bond is the chairman of the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has also made a mark as a member of the Georgia General Assembly, a writer and professor.

His speech to the crowd of more than 300 at North Shore University Hospital at Manhasset, which was teleconferenced to the system’s 10 other hospitals, shifted from King’s legacy to his family history as a descendant of slaves and from the NAACP to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The event, started by Robert McGhee, a former cook at the hospital, and John Gallagher, co-chairman of the North Shore-LIJ Health System Foundation, honored and celebrated the accomplishments of King.

When the program began 31 years ago, McGhee said, people were trying to get recognition for King. He said he thought there was no better way to praise him and bring together the diverse hospital staff than by holding an event commemorating King and the fight for civil rights.

“In some important ways non-white Americans face problems more difficult to attack now than in all the years that came before,” Bond said. “In the wake of Sept. 11 and its aftermath we have been witness to the best and worst of humanity.”

Today many people believe that they cannot effect any change or influence the society where they live. But, he said, 40 years ago a man protested, spoke out and picketed to bring an end to segregation.

“That message is people move forward faster when they move forward together,” Bond said. “Remember, King did not speak to an empty field at the march on Washington, he did not march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. There were thousands marching with him and supporting him.”

Josephine Harris of Jamaica, who works at the hospital, said every year the program gets better. She said it brings together whites, blacks and people of all colors.

Hospital employee Ellaraine Campbell, of Holliswood, said she enjoyed the speech and believes racial equality today is better than it was 50 years ago. Progress, she said, “is slow but improving.”

Quoting anthropologist Margaret Mead, Bond said, “never doubt that a small group of vocal committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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