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There was an aura

Tuesday, January 18, 2005  
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Reprinted from Jersey Journal – January 17, 2005



Hudson residents recall encounters with Rev. King


Monday, January 17, 2005


As the nation pauses today to remember the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 76 on Saturday, The Jersey Journal sought out Hudson residents to share their personal recollections about being in King's presence.


Thirty-seven years after his death, many of those who met King have since passed on themselves. But those who remain recall a man filled with integrity, courage and devotion to advancing the cause of civil rights.


'I remember shaking his hand'


Phil Jackson met King as a boy. His father, Charles Jackson, served as King's bodyguard during his landmark 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., and during his visits to Jersey City.


"My family met Dr. King around 1960 at a church meeting in Pennsylvania when I was about 8 or 9 years old," said Jackson, now a Jersey City police detective. "I remember shaking his hand and him speaking to us kids like we were adults. Although I was a child, I could tell there was something special about him. There was an aura. It seemed wherever he went, he took center stage. Everybody hung on his words. It was like he was magical."


Jackson said his father was selected as a marshal to guard King during 1963's March on Washington based on his credentials as a proven detective and policeman in Jersey City for more than 30 years at the time.


Jackson said his father didn't take him and other family members to the march. But he and his siblings crowded around a television to watch, and saw their father standing beside King.


"I could see my father looking up in the sky," Jackson said. "We teased him about that. However, he said up in the sky at the time, the clouds were forming a cross in the sky. He told us that must have been a sign that God had a smile on his face because of all the peace and harmony among the crowd. At first, people thought the march was going to bring trouble. But when Dr. King came to speak there was a hush over the crowd and all you could hear was his voice."


Speak and deliver


Cornelius Parker, owner of Parker Funeral Home in Jersey City, was a trustee at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Jersey City when King visited in 1968, a week before his assassination.


"The fact that he even came to our church was a big honor," said Parker, now 89.


King arrived at the Bergen Avenue church very late, Parker recalled.


"When he finally came in, he said, 'I'd rather be Martin Luther King late than to be the late Martin Luther King," Parker said. "That brought a big laugh from the crowd."


As he sat in his front row seat among other church trustees and deacons, Parker said he couldn't stop marveling at King.


"The main thing I liked about him was that he could speak so well and then deliver," Parker said.


Parker noted that at the time support for King was growing by leaps and bounds.


"The assassination stopped him but it didn't stop the movement," Parker said.


'He was a great fella'


The Rev. Ralph Brower, pastor for 50 years at St. Michael's Methodist Church in Jersey City and past president of the city's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, also met King at Metropolitan A.M.E.


"I remember when we brought him here to Jersey City," Brower said. "He was a great fella. All business."


Brower said it was next to impossible to be around King without "getting that civil rights push."


"What I liked about him is that he wasn't out for show," Brower said. "He was real."


King was also a reluctant leader.


"People pushed him out front," Brower said.


If King hadn't been killed, Brower believes, he might have been elected president.


"At the time of his death, he had picked up a lot of momentum among whites and I believe would have had support to win an election," Brower said. "We lost a great personality in him. But God always seems to know how to move the program."


'A quiet and humble man'


Willie Flood, Jersey City Board of Education member and former city councilwoman and candidate for mayor, met King as a young woman growing up in her hometown of Mobile, Ala.


"He went to seminary school with my great uncle, Charles Tunstall, who was the pastor at Stone Street Baptist Church in Mobile," Flood said. "They were good friends. When he came to the church to preach, he would always talk with us. He was really down to earth."


When King organized the Montgomery bus boycott during the 1950s, Flood said King called on her uncle and his church to help out.


"We followed him like he was the Pied Piper," Flood said. "We did it because Dr. King said it was the right thing to do. This whole movement was thrust upon him. He didn't really want to do it. He was a quiet and humble man who always thought of himself as a professor."


Years later, Flood and her husband, Phil, would attend King's appearance at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Jersey City.


"It was a beautiful event and the church was packed," Flood said. "We knew King and he knew us but we couldn't get anywhere close to him that night. So, all we could do was yell, 'Dr. King! Dr. King!'"


Helping the poor


The Rev. John Buckley, professor emeritus at St. Peter's College, recalls King's speech there in 1965, less than a year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.


"I remember the excitement of it all," Buckley said. "His visit was really all because of (the late Rev.) Thomas A. Wassmer, a philosophy professor who used to persecute these guys on the phone about coming to be a part of our lecture series."


Buckley said King appeared youthful and vigorous and his speech that evening was "edifying." He said King seemed to be deeply interested in what came to be known as liberation theology.


"He was looking for a way of understanding the biblical faith in giving priority to the needs of the poor . to overcome the terrible gap between the poor and the rich," Buckley said.


After King's speech, Buckley said he received applause and a surprise.


"One of Wassmer's big things while the applause was coming was to go up to the speaker and give him or her a big embrace," Buckley said. "Dr. King seemed a little startled by that. I think he may have been a bit shy of us."


Among the marchers


Theodore Brunson, founder of the Jersey City African-American Museum, was among the thousands who listened as King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech after the March on Washington in 1963.


He remembers trying in vain to reach him via Charles Jackson, King's Jersey City bodyguard, after the march ended.


"I couldn't get anywhere near him," Brunson said.


Nonetheless, Brunson said being among the masses at the march sufficed.


"Everything King said was so profound," he said. "He knew how to write and speak. I kept thinking to myself, 'The Good Lord is really looking after him.' I'm not sure what I would have said if I had met him other than to keep it up. Not many men come along with as much fervor as he had."


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