Former Premier recalls meeting Rev Martin Luther King in 1968
The 50th anniversary of US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech afforded former Premier Ewart Brown a chance to recall meeting the visionary leader shortly before Dr King’s 1968 assassination.
Dr King’s August 28, 1963 speech took place in the heart of the US capital before more than 250,000 marchers protesting racial discrimination, one year before Dr Brown commenced his studies in the US.
During his own student activist days in Washington, DC, Dr Brown volunteered for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil-rights group, and was introduced to Dr King through the Civil Rights leader’s assistant, the Reverend Walter Fauntroy.
“We shook hands, and talked for a few minutes about the SNCC campaign in the US,” said Dr Brown of his meeting with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Then studying at Howard University, Dr Brown had to work hard to earn his introduction — by selling tickets as a volunteer for an SNCC fundraiser.
Looking back on their meeting, Dr Brown added: “He told me to keep up the good work.”
The short encounter with the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference lingered with Dr Brown as he was swiftly caught up in the American Civil Rights movement.
Dr King was fatally shot on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee hotel — but Dr Brown said the Civil Rights leader’s legacy remained firmly with the movement.
“There were those who felt, as I did, impatient with the pace of change. But Dr King’s real value was not just in his philosophy of non-violence. It was his brilliant analysis of human behaviour. That was his strength, to me.”
Looking back on the 1963 March On Washington and Dr King’s historic speech, commemorated yesterday around the world, Dr Brown said: “He had the ability, in one single speech, to diagnose the pathology of not just the country but the world.”
He conceded that other contemporary Civil Rights activists, such as then Nation of Islam preacher Malcolm X, had been unimpressed with the March on Washington — but Dr Brown called the splitting of philosophies into a “Malcolm or Martin” dichotomy “an artificial division”.
“They were aiming at the same target, trying to fix the same problem,” Dr Brown said of the two Civil Rights icons.
He said Malcolm X’s disparagement of the March was “accurate” in the sense that the mass protest was originally intended to be a far more radical affair.
“Preparations were made in Washington for potential violence,” he said. “The authorities thought there were going to be militant incidents.
“Officials got involved to ensure that it would not go in that direction, and Malcolm X thought their involvement was diluting the tenor of the march.”
Dr Brown told The Royal Gazette that he’d kept his activism within the student body, as well as work with the SNCC.
He recalled working with Marion Barry — later the mayor of Washington, DC — in the 1965 SNCC boycott of the DC transit system when the company tried to raise its fares.
However, Dr Brown said he’d seen no reason to become a member of groups such as the Black Panthers, adding: “I was not a joiner.”