Photo by Nat Valentine
At Queens College ceremonies for Martin Luther King Day, Rev. Floyd Flake of the Greater Allen AME Church recalls the college’s Andrew Goodman, a student who was murdered in with two other civil rights workers in the famed “Mississippi Burning” case.
By Aneisha Rose

At Queens College, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was remembered for his struggles and sacrifice for the fight for equality on what would have been his 88th birthday Sunday, at the Colden Auditorium in the Kupferberg Center for the Arts.

Honored at the event was former Congressman Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, the senior pastor at Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica and a friend of King, who spoke about how the civil rights leader would have reacted to President-elect Donald Trump’s impact on civil rights.

“What’s going on now,” said Flake. “I think that he would be out there doing what he was doing in terms of crossing the country, looking at where the soft spots are and trying to build up with whites and blacks, building a community of faith not about color, but about society as a whole,” said Rev. Flake.

Flake also reminisced about the young civil right activist from Queens College who was part of the trio slaughtered for fighting for voting rights in Mississippi in 1964.

“Queens College is one of those colleges, when you think about what happened to the boys that got killed and how much they put into themselves to keep people understanding what it was all about…it is an important thing, because all they were trying to do was be a part of that movement and they killed him,” Flake said.

The three men who died were Queens College’s Andrew Goodman; James Chaney of Merdian, Miss.; and Michael Schwerner of Westchester.

“Nearly 53 years ago, inspired by the words of Dr. King, they went to Mississippi to register black voters and they were murdered,” said Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, president of Queens College. “President Obama awarded them the Medal of Honor last year posthumously and awarded the only honorary Ph.D. in the country that’s been given posthumously to Andrew Goodman, who was a sophomore here when he left.”

Introducing the keynote speaker Cheryl Wills was Queens Library Chief Executive Officer Dennis Walcott.

“I think the audience is reflective of what this day is about,” Walcott said. “If you take a look at the people that are gathering here, the sheer numbers of the people that are gathering here, I think it’s a testimony to Dr. King, and more importantly Queens College and what they are doing for the community. There are people of all different backgrounds, religions and races. That’s what Dr. King stood for.”

Walcott spoke about Trump.

“You cannot escape politics, but the reality is we are a country of diversity and that is what Dr. King stood for, and I think it is important for any individual to be respectful of diversity,” he said. “That is what this country is about and that is the history of this country…that is what Dr. King stood for.”

The keynote speaker, author and NY1 anchor Cheryl Wills talked about the current state of the country and why King’s work is not done.

“Dr. King, we need him now more than ever,” she said. “The country is almost as bitterly divided as when he was alive and we need a voice of reason.”

She added, “We have a technology now where so many people can attack with a click of a button and a click of mouse, and we need somebody to say bring it down. We are still the United States of America and we can peacefully agree to disagree.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a friend of Flake, was in attendance.

“We love coming together as a borough celebrating Dr. King,” said Katz. “We are 130 languages, we are 120 countries right here in Queens, we are the most diverse county on the planet and to be able to come together and celebrate as one and have a voice nationwide regarding a great man who really led the movement…is something that Queens does as well,” said Katz. “It’s a exciting time to celebrate him with such uncertainty out there…and I’m very excited to celebrate former Congressman Flake who is a great leader and has done so much for the borough of Queens.”

During her speech, Wills spoke about being the ancestor of slaves, one that was a soldier during the Civil War and how her great, great, grandfather and mother fought to be recognized in their own country.

“They bought my grandfather Sandy when he was 10 years old,” Wills said. “When it came to my grandpa Sandy Wills he wrote occupation farmer (on his enlistment papers)… I remind students today that this man had the presence of mind to determine who he was, not how the world saw him.”

Later in the night she displayed a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation that she received as a gift. Wills intends on going to Tennessee to where her ancestors were buried and building a school near their gravesite in their honor.

Performing at the event was the Dance Theater of Harlem.

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