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By Chinta Strausberg

 

Father Michael L. Pfleger will be in Memphis Wednesday to receive the coveted “I Am A Man” award at the 12th annual commemorative April 4th awards banquet for his continued efforts to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream alive through direct social and economic non-violence actions.

According to the April 4th Foundation, the “I Am A Man” award is presented to those individuals who continue to strive to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s “dream’ alive who continue to strive to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s “dream alive and to bring it into being.”

”I am honored to be in the company of such great people who have received this award,” Pfleger. “Dr. King is the reason I am in ministry today. He has been my mentor and inspiration as to the role that church must play in transforming the world. I am humbled to be in Memphis on April 4th the last place Dr. King spoke and stood for justice and to continue his cry for justice and equality,” said Pfleger.

“This will be a very difficult and very emotional day for me,” Pfleger told his congregation on Palm Sunday. “Dr. King is my mentor in ministry. To be walking on the same place where” King lost his life is an honor, he said.

On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 44-years after the assassination of Dr. King while he was standing outside of Room 306 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, Father Pfleger will receive the “I AM A MAN” award at the Cook Convention Center for his work in civil rights and for carrying on the dream and legacy of Dr. King who is his mentor. It will also be a day of some serious reflections by Pfleger that as a teenager shaped his life and his career path for the rest of his life.

August 5, 1966 was a hot and sultry day and so was the tension that hovered over Marquette Park where African Americans were not welcomed and couldn’t live. Dr. King came to Chicago to fight for open housing knowing he would be met with strong resistance from white residents of that South Side community.  He and his supporters came anyway.

While marching in that community, a rock was thrown and hit Dr. King in his head causing him to fall on one knee but though whites protesting his appearance in their neighborhood, spat on him, threw bottles, cursed him and carried signs like “King would look good with a knife in his back,” and “Keep White Neighborhoods White,” King continued his peaceful anti-housing discrimination march.

One of those watching was Pfleger, then 17 who was on his bike. What he witnessed was mindboggling. He was mesmerized by King’s resilience, his unwavering courage and his non-violence techniques in the face of extreme adversity and racial hatred.

Young Pfleger thought he knew his neighbors and friends and was shocked and ashamed at their negative and racist behavior. The scene of King marching through his all-white neighborhood and being attacked and his courage to keep marching, fighting for open housing sent Pfleger scurrying to the library to read up on everything King had done. “Who was this man”? He had asked.

After researching Dr. King, Pfleger said he put King’s pictures all over his bedroom walls, bought every record and book and became infatuated with this man of peace who always remained calm in he midst of chaos.

It was Dr. King who motivated Pfleger to become a priest and today he tries to live and teach King’s non-violent principles every day as pastor of the mostly African American Saint Sabina church and to his students at the Saint Sabina Academy.

April 4th will be the day Pfleger will be awarded for catching and developing one piece of Dr. King’s broken dream. It will also be a day when the nation will take a trip down memory lane and remember the days of rage when blacks and whites literally put their lives on the line to fight for civil rights and social justice for African Americans not just to vote but for equal public accommodations as well.

While the nation remembers Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a white Detroit suburban housewife who was killed by the KKK while transporting marchers along a Selma highway in 1965, others will remember Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 25-year-old African American deacon who was killed by a state trooper in Marion, Alabama trying to protect his mother who was attacked by white police for marching for the right to vote.

Marion, Alabama is where Sheriff Jim Clark had arrested 700 children for marching for the right to vote, beat activist C.T. Vivian and arrested a civil rights leader charging him with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

April 4th will be a day when the nation remembers the three civil rights workers who were kidnapped and killed by the KKK in Philadelphia, Mississippi. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two Jews and a Black were murdered and buried. The town honored the code of silence until the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI stepped in offering a $30,000 reward. A tipster told them where to find their bodies.

April 4th will be a day when the nation remembers the deaths of the four little girls, Addie Mae Collins Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Robertson, who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama.  The KKK was involved in that incident.

April 4th will remind America about the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first NAACP field secretary in Jackson Mississippi. Few will know of William Moore, a white man who held a one-man march against segregation in Attalla, Alabama. He had protested segregated move theaters in Baltimore. He walked from Chattanooga, TN to Jackson, MS to protest segregation and to ask Gov. Ross Barnett to accept integration.  He never got to Jackson because a white storeowner, who earlier had befriended Moore, shot him at close range. He was never arrested.

And, April 4th will also be a day when few may know about the deaths of three black men, Samuel Ephesians Hammond, Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith. They were students who protested segregation at a bowling alley. They wee shot down in the back by white police as they try to flee the gunfire.

And, April 4th will remind the world of the tragic case of the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who was killed last February by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who was told by police not to follow the youth who had been visiting his father in a gated community in Sanford, Florida and was only carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea. Today, the FBI is officially heading its own investigation. Zimmerman, who has a criminal record, has yet to be arrested. Two-weeks ago, Pfleger held worship service wearing a gray-colored hoodie in support of Martin’s family’s cry for justice.

Pfleger has called on President Barack Obama to provide assistance in reducing the violence in Chicago he equates to the genocide that went on in Darfur and Rwanda. Pfleger also denounced critics who blamed Martin’s death on his wearing a hoodie. He wants everyone to be just as outraged over black-on-black violence as they are about Trayvon Martin’s death.

Wednesday, Pfleger will recall a lot of scenes from America’s past but especially the one he witnessed when he was 17-years old—the attack on Dr. King in his own neighborhood by people he thought he knew. Pfleger has vowed to continue to carry out Dr. King’s social and economic agenda until the day he dies and challenges others to follow suit.

Pfleger is proud to take King’s messages throughout the nation especially to Howard University when he frequently speaks and other colleges around the nation.  Pfleger even takes King’s non-violence principles to the gangs that are wreaking havoc on the community when he meets with them face-to-face. He offers them the alternatives of peace and jobs rather than their bullets and murder.

In the spirit of Dr. King, Pfleger has even asked the Chicago Board of Education to teach conflict-resolution courses. To Pfleger, that is one of Dr. King’s initiatives and one that could help stem the rise of violence in the black community.

In getting the “I Am A Man” award, Father Pfleger will be joining past recipients like his friend, actor Harry Belafonte and others like: Judge Joe Brown, former President William “Bill” Clinton, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), former Rep. Harold Ford, Sr. (D-TN), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), former Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) President Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery; William “Bill: Lucy with the American Federal Sate County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st), Congresswoman Maxine Water (D-CA), and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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