Former Mayor Dinkins honored at Black History event

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State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) honored former Mayor David Dinkins with a Lifetime Achievement Award at his second Black History Month celebration.

The city’s first black mayor received multiple standing ovations at the senator’s event, held at the Langston Hughes Library, at 100-01 Northern Blvd. in Corona, last Thursday. As the main honoree and the keynote speaker, Dinkins told the more than 100 attendees about the struggles he faced growing up in segregated America and the black leaders before and since his time.

“Black New Yorkers are proud of our own unique heritage,” Dinkins said.

Peralta’s Black History Month ceremony was the second of what the senator plans to make an annual event. In introducing Dinkins, Peralta credited the former mayor with the lease of the USTA National Tennis Center, increasing the size of the police force, lowering the population in the homeless shelters and starting the city’s lessening crime rate.

“David Dinkins really paved the way for many others to follow in his footsteps,” the senator said.

Dinkins, 84, said he grew up in Harlem and Trenton, N.J., during the Great Depression when Jim Crow laws were in place. When he joined the Marine Corps to fight in World War II, after initially being rejected in multiple cities, black soldiers were trained at different places than their white counterparts and were treated less well than German and Italian prisoners of war.

“It was just as hard on us after the war as it had been before,” Dinkins said.

While he initially was not interested in higher education, he went to Howard University through the G.I. Bill and was inspired to better himself by his teachers.

“Listen to your teachers and your parents,” Dinkins told the children in the audience. “They care about you.”

He said he could not have eventually become mayor if civil rights activist Percy Ellis Sutton, who ran in 1977 but lost the Democratic nomination to Ed Koch, had not run a graceful and dignified campaign that proved a black candidate could be viable. Dinkins was once considered part of a “Gang of Four” with Sutton, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Astoria) and Harlem political leader Basil Paterson, father of former Gov. David Paterson.

Dinkins said when Sutton ran, he began his campaign in Queens.

“He was trying to prove that he would be mayor not just of Harlem but of the whole city,” Dinkins said.

The former mayor said while the country still has homelessness and poverty, and while black youth are sent to prison instead of the school system, the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will not be fulfilled. He also said he had never imagined that he would see the day when the United States would elect a black president, and the victory by President Barack Obama has changed how he talks to children.

“I told them, ‘You know, you can be mayor,’” Dinkins said. “Now I tell them, ‘You know, you can be president.’”

Peralta also recognized state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), NYPD Det. Adriane Johnson, community activist Melinda Murray, the Revs. Marvin Bentley and Patrick Young and District Leaders Barbara Jackson, Veta Brome and George Dixon.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 7:51 am, February 23, 2012
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