Martin Luther King Day commemorated at LIJ

By Howard Koplowitz

That was the message the black journalist, pundit and author Juan Williams gave during his keynote address Friday at North Shore-LIJ's 36th Annual memorial service for King at North Shore University Hospital's Rust Auditorium.When asked in a private interview shortly before he made his remarks whether he was concerned that with Rosa Parks' death last year young people would not fully understand the civil rights movement, Williams said “it's not only that generation is clearly dying off, but I think the times we live in are so different.”He said young people think of King “as a mythological hero.” “They have this bluntless image of King. They don't see King as just as human, just as insecure as they are. They don't think 'Oh, well, it's my responsibility to make a difference.'”Williams said he first got involved in writing about civil rights issues after covering President Ronald Reagan for the Washington Post in the 1980s. But he said “readers have such short memories,” so he would write larger pieces in the paper's Sunday editions on topics such as affirmative action and diversity in higher education.He would later go on to write “Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965,” a non-fiction best-seller about the civil rights movement and a biography of Thurgood Marshall.”There really is a need to tell the civil rights movement for people who had no idea,” Williams said. To reaffirm that point, he said he once spoke to Rosa Parks and she told him young people would come up to her and ask her what it was like during the era of slavery.During his speech, Williams Ðwho can be seen on Fox News and heard on National Public RadioÐ spoke of King as a reluctant civil rights leader. “It's hard for some to remember the reality of Dr. King,” he said. “We hide Dr. King behind so much that the young people come away with a distorted perception. They don't see the challenge of Dr. King. You should realize that the truth is so much more powerful.”As the head of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., King was asked by a local NAACP leader to organize a bus boycott. But Williams, who has written books on the civil rights movement, said King initially declined, noting that he did not have time because it was his first job out of school, he was still finishing his doctorate and he had a pregnant wife who “wanted him to take Lamaze classes and paint the upstairs bedroom” Ð excuses Williams said could easily be made if the 1960s were today. It was only two days later, Williams said, when the leader called King to say he would bring 400 people to the church to organize the boycott and King accepted since it would not make a good impression if he were not to show up.Other realities of the movement people should know about, Williams said, is that Parks was not the first black woman to defy segregation by refusing to sit at the back of a bus Ð the first was a 16-year-old. But the NAACP decided that because the teen was pregnant she would not make a good face for the resulting bus boycott in Montgomery and segregationists could easily attack her.Williams said people should also know that King was stoned and spit upon as he traveled across the country Ð even after he received the Nobel Peace Prize.”People tend to forget,” Williams said. “This is the challenging reality of Dr. King. You have to understand that King is alive. And you are in the fight of the living reality of Dr. King.”Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173

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