A Black History Month Moment
Posted by Nicholas Stix
Dr. King was going to propose a separate state for blacks so they could eventually achieve economic parity that he believed wouldn't happen on its own in America.I guarantee you that he still would have demanded that whites completely support blacks financially. Note too that King’s supposed “last plan” was identical with the demand of the genocidal Nation of Islam.
Thanks to JTL for this article.
Daring to dream
By Mike Wynn
March 23, 2008
What if you believed deeply that you'd had the opportunity to prevent one of the darkest moments in this country's history but failed to grab it?
The Rev. Nathaniel Irvin, the pastor of Old Storm Branch Baptist Church in Bath, said some were reluctant to be tied to Dr. King.
Whether it haunts you wouldn't be in doubt; the question is, how much?
The emotions are still raw for John Watkins 40 years after the death of his civil rights mentor, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. History will always record April 4, 1968, as the day Dr. King was felled by an assassin's bullet in Memphis, Tenn., but what Mr. Watkins believes could have happened 12 days earlier in Augusta brings tears to his eyes even to this day.
"I didn't do what I should have done," the former Augusta attorney and civil rights leader said between sobs while discussing the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's last visit to Augusta on March 23, 1968. "I regret it today."
Mr. Watkins believes he didn't try hard enough to convince Dr. King not to return to Memphis to continue his work with striking black sanitation workers. Because he was the driving force in arranging Dr. King's speech at Beulah Grove Baptist Church, his hindsight about what could have been is stronger than most.
"He had no business going down there to the sanitation workers' strike," Mr. Watkins said, convinced the strike over better pay and job conditions was too much of a local issue for someone of Dr. King's international stature. "He knew that, and I told him that. But I didn't do what frat brothers normally do. I should have grabbed him by the collar and said, 'Look ML, you ain't going back down there.' "
OTHERS WHO WERE at Dr. King's speech in Augusta don't have the same intense feelings as Mr. Watkins, but they are proud to have been there, and, though not knowing at the time, witnessed history.
"I'll never forget the day. It was an emotional experience," said the Rev. Nathaniel Irvin, 79, the pastor of Old Storm Branch Baptist Church in Bath. "When he came into the church, it was like electricity had hit this place. ABC News, NBC News, all these cameras, reporters swarming there. I'd never seen anything like it."
He and others who were there -- attendance estimates range from 500 to several thousand -- almost were denied that opportunity. Though Dr. King had made speeches in Augusta twice -- the first at Tabernacle Baptist Church in 1962 -- this time he was not as welcome by some of Augusta's black elite because of his increasingly controversial views.
A year earlier, in 1967, Dr. King had spoken out against America's role in the Vietnam War at New York's Riverside Church, calling the United States "the world's greatest purveyor of violence." He was also in the midst of drawing attention to the nation's impoverished, promising to put an international spotlight on the issue with his Poor People's Campaign in the summer of 1968.
Some black churches turned Mr. Watkins down when he asked them to play host to Dr. King, and his aggravation about it is not easily hidden.
"They were scared," he said of some black community leaders at the time, whom he believes didn't want to damage the status they had attained with Augusta's white power brokers.
"At that time, you'd be surprised some people in education, some ministers were reluctant to be identified to a degree with this kind of movement that King had run," said the Rev. Irvin, who was then the pastor of Greater Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Augusta, which wasn't approached because it was too small. "Sometimes people are intimidated."
Beulah Grove's pastor, the Rev. B.I. Vernon, was not. William Howard, a deacon emeritus at the church, recalled the discussion the Rev. Vernon had with church elders about the request.
The meeting didn't last long.
"He needs a place to speak and we are going to open our doors to him," Mr. Howard, 83, recalled what the Rev. Vernon told the deacons.
Their response: "Let him come on in here. Simple." No dissent.
"I think we all were proud of the fact that we could open our doors to him," Mr. Howard said.
THE VISIT was a last-minute affair. An associate of Dr. King called Mr. Watkins at his home the morning of March 20, 1968, and asked him a big favor: Could he arrange for Dr. King to speak in Augusta three days from then to help push his plan for the Poor People's Campaign?
Mr. Watkins agreed out of his affection for Dr. King, whom he had met while at Howard University law school in the 1950s and got to know better during his visits to Augusta. But there were concerns, the main ones being whether he could pull it off in so short a time and, as he puts it, "then not get killed."
When word of the visit got out, anonymous threatening phone calls began, he said.
"They called my house and told my children and the maid that they were going to kill me if I brought King to Augusta," Mr. Watkins recalled. "They were going to kill both of us."
So worried was he about security that only the airport manager at Bush Field knew when and on which runway Dr. King's private plane was going to land. The plane arrived about three hours later than scheduled. Rumors had it that the plane was late because of bomb threats; Mr. Watkins says Dr. King told him business affairs in Albany, Ga., kept him longer than expected.
On the plane were Dr. King's sons, Dexter and Martin III, and his second-in-command, Ralph Abernathy Jr. Once on the ground, Mr. Watkins took no chances. He put Dr. King and his sons in a car with him and had Dr. Abernathy ride in another. The cars took different routes to the church -- Dr. King's took Tobacco Road and the other went down Georgia Highway 56 (Mike Padgett Highway).
"We didn't tell the police, we didn't tell anybody because we thought they were going to be on it to get us," Mr. Watkins said. "Can't you see the drama in that? Can't even tell the police."
When they arrived at Beulah Grove, they were greeted by an exuberant crowd that overflowed the church.
"All you had to do was say King was coming to Augusta, and black folk were ready to jump into the street just like after a Joe Louis fight," said James Carter III, who was 29 when he heard Dr. King speak and is now a preeminent chronicler of Augusta's black history. "And people were eager to see him. When they came in there, they just wanted to look at him and touch him and they admired him so much."
They didn't get a chance to do much touching because Dr. King didn't linger long in the parking lot. Once out of the car, Mr. Watkins and Dr. King ran inside the church with their bodyguards closely in tow, fearing there might be snipers about.
DR. KING'S SPEECH lasted only about 10 minutes because he was exhausted from the day's activities. In his 2000 book about Dr. King's speech, King's Last Visit to Augusta , Mr. Watkins wrote that Dr. King apologized for being late and asked those there to support his Poor People's march.
"There are those who would like for us to fail in this endeavor," Dr. King said, according to Mr. Watkins' book. "But I will tell you they will not succeed in their efforts, for we are doing God's will."
He wouldn't get a chance to lead the march. The Rev. Abernathy and other civil rights leaders carried through with Dr. King's plans, but his death killed any momentum it had. The Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C., lasted 42 days from May 14 to June 24, 1968.
Dr. King's death also stopped him from carrying through on a plan that would have charted a new and highly controversial course for the civil rights movement, according to Mr. Watkins. In his book, he wrote that Dr. King shared his frustrations about the economic inequities blacks faced in America over dinner at a hotel after his speech. He then whispered to Mr. Watkins what he hoped to eventually do, something the former Augustan decided not to put in his book.
But after 40 years of secrecy, and initially saying he would probably take it to his grave, he revealed what it was: Dr. King was going to propose a separate state for blacks so they could eventually achieve economic parity that he believed wouldn't happen on its own in America.
"It nearly scared me to death," Mr. Watkins wrote of the idea.
COMING TO GRIPS with Dr. King's death wasn't easy for Mr. Watkins. For decades, he couldn't bring himself to drive by Beulah Grove. It took him until 2003 before he would revisit the church.
"Man, he was a good guy," Mr. Watkins said.
Mr. Carter said Dr. King's importance to the black community can't be overstated. He has not been replaced, Mr. Carter said, though there have been a number of pretenders to the throne.
"A lot of folks looked for a successor to King, but a successor never emerged," he said. "They thought Joe Lowery was going to do it. Nope. They thought Jesse (Jackson) was going to do it. Nope. And then later on, one of the latter guys was Al Sharpton. You have not had a black leader who could rally all the black folks like King could."
Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT HE TOLD AUGUSTA IN 1968
Excerpts from the Rev. Martin Luther King's last speech in Augusta 40 years ago today (March 23, 1968), as quoted in the book, King's Last Visit to Augusta: He was Persona Non Grata.
- "This country has lost its sense of direction, its sense of purpose and it needs to rearrange its priorities. For we cannot fight an immoral war in Vietnam where many of our young men are dying and at the same time finance the war on poverty to help our people in this country -- white and black people living in what seems like hopeless conditions."
- "Let them think of me as they like. As long as breath is in this body, I am going to do whatever I can to eliminate these conditions so when our boys come home, we can truly help the poor and uneducated."