The Award Winning News Publication of Mercy College

The Impact

The Award Winning News Publication of Mercy College

The Impact

The Award Winning News Publication of Mercy College

The Impact

Voice of Civil Rights Movement Speaks at Mercy

By John Ceravino

He stood shoulder to shoulder with a king. He helped the nation have a dream. His words and actions have helped change American culture. And he’s not done yet.

On the verge of Black History Month, Mercy College in partnership with the River Arts, was honored to have its guest speaker, Clarence B. Jones, speak about his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, as well as a multitude of other relevant topics. Jones recently released his book, “What Would Martin Say?” that marks the 40th anniversary of King’s assassination; Jones had vowed to keep silent about King until it seemed prudent to do so.

“America was like a drug addict,” Jones recalled. “Martin Luther King forced America to begin a racial detox.”

Jones entered the Rotunda at Mercy College the same way that he exited, to a standing ovation. The room had a steady buzz to it as professors and students eagerly awaited the words of their distinguished speaker on Jan. 31. Jones, who served as speechwriter and legal counsel to King for eight years, twice has been recognized as Fortune Magazine’s Business Man of the Month and was the first African-American to become a partner and Allied Member of the New York Stock Exchange. He met King 49 years ago, and he was reluctant to lend a hand to the charismatic civil rights leader at first.

King was being indicted on four counts of perjury in 1960 and a law clerk was needed. Jones was living in California and was reluctant to leave for Alabama even though King insisted that they “needed young Negro leaders to help the cause.”

Jones was invited to hear King preach and his sermon was on “the responsibility of the Negro professional to help the cause.” King was apparently none too subtle about his desire for Jones to be a part of his team.

“Martin definitely had my attention from the start of his sermon. I never thought he was speaking directly to me though. He said my ‘brain was touched by God’ and I ‘have forgotten from whence I came.’ I immediately began to tear up.”

Jones joined King’s council and soon after relocated his family to be closer to him. Over the course of the next eight years, Jones was King’s right hand man. He helped to fashion the famous “I Have a Dream” speech and smuggled out King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

King was soon after assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray was soon after charged and convicted of murdering King. Jones, among many others, does not believe that this incident was so cut and dry.

“The FBI wants us to think a disgruntled ex-con decided on his own…I am convinced that King’s death was a result of conspiracy that resulted in cold-blooded murder.”

The FBI closely watched Jones and King; Jones successfully sued and won his files from July of 1963 to Dec. of 1967. Every telephone conversation that took place between the two was recorded, and they were constantly being followed, he claims.

“I read pages upon pages of my wife telling me how the children weren’t doing their homework,” he laughed.

Jones most recently has been questioned on his feelings towards President Barack Obama and the impact it will have on this great nation.

“We never contemplated within our lifetimes that a country would inaugurate the first African-American President and he would stand where 43 white men had stood before him.”

It surely was a bittersweet moment when this nation elected its first ever African-American President. Jones got to witness firsthand King’s dream come to fruition.

“I cried…I cried over the memory of those who are no longer living and didn’t get to see this great day in American history. My tears are for them.”

Jones has seen the potential in Americans to change for a long time now. He is not at ease yet though.

“Racism is still a virus, but one would have to be deaf, dumb, and stupid not to recognize the seismic change that has happened in our country.”

Jones is currently working on his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Wintertime Soldier.” It will describe some of his experiences with King as well as his personal life journeys such as a never before published account on his negotiations to end the Attica prison rebellion. Long removed from the days of King, Jones quest for equality is as strong as ever.

“The quality, not the longevity of one’s life, is what is important.”

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