Local attorney remembers meeting civil rights leader as young boy

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By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Jon Alexander recalls his father's objections.

His mother wanted to take the 12-year-old boy and his 10-year-old

sister to nearby Drew University in Madison, N.J., one evening in

1964 to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak.

Alexander's father predicted trouble with King's opponents protesting

at the event and worried about his family's safety.

andquot;I want the children to see this man,andquot; Alexander recalls his mother

saying.

When they walked up to the meeting, a protester handed her hate

literature. When she handed it back, he cursed at her.

andquot;I'm sorry you weren't raised any better than that,andquot; the 5-foot-tall

woman replied.

Forty-three years later as the nation commemorated King Monday,

Alexander doesn't recall much of the speech, except that people

filled the facility and lined up outside to hear it broadcast over

loudspeakers.

But he does remember how a family friend led him backstage to meet

the civil rights leader who would be assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.,

four years later at the age of 39.

andquot;He had this big, warm hand. It was like a ham wrapped around my

hand. And he had this big, beautiful smile,andquot; Alexander said. andquot;I

remember he was really big, I remember he was very black. For some

reason, I remember how white his palms were.andquot;

Alexander thought about the meaning that he takes from recalling that

detail.

andquot;Everyone's the same,andquot; he said.

Alexander would go on to help register black voters in Oxford, Miss.,

in the 1970s. The Crescent City resident and lawyer carries a brass

circle keychain with an image of King's face on it, along with the

dates of his life 1929 to 1968 and calls him the greatest

American of the last century's second half.

Alexander sees the story that King battled repeat itself among

religions and races in Ireland, in the Middle East, in Eastern Europe.

andquot;It's another reason why people have to stay involved,andquot; Alexander

said. andquot;In some degree, if you are going to be a citizen in a

democracy, you owe it in some degree to be an activist.andquot;

Then he recalled a famous King phrase.

andquot;Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.andquot;

Reach Hilary Corrigan at hcorrigan@triplicate.com .

13903194
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