To honor Black History Month, The McDuffie Museum has on display a book that was written by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Stride Toward Freedom was written to tell the world about the true story of the suffering and struggle of the African-American community in Montgomery, Ala., during its bus strike in the 1950s. This book was held in Dr. King’s hand, was signed by him in his typical green ink. It also has the signatures of almost all the important early civil rights leaders. It’s the only artifact of Dr. King on display here. His collectibles are too expensive for the normal person to acquire. He is the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of the black community. He was the leader of his people. Come see it, and think of him and his amazing life and sacrifice.
The museum also has on display quite a few items from the life of James Brown, the only Godfather of Soul. He was No. 1; there was no other like him. Period. But I’d like to tell you about the night James Brown saved the city of Boston. On the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed. James Brown stepped up and played a major role as a force for calm in the terrible times following King’s death. It worked because he was an icon of black leadership at that time. Mr. Brown had flown to Africa in his Lear jet on March 30 after playing four straight days at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, N.Y. He had dined with the president of the Ivory Coast, and came to realize that through his music he could promote global brotherhood. He landed in New York on April 2 and immediately began preparations for his April 5 Boston Garden concert. The news of Dr. King’s death added to the pressure of the upcoming concert and put Mr. Brown into a crisis mode. Could he continue with the concert?
Rioting by some of the black community had begun upon hearing of the assassination. Many cities were on fire. In all, over 110 American cities would eventually be shaken by riots. Mayor Kevin White of Boston knew that his city was doomed, too. It was suggested that if Mr. Brown’s concert was somehow televised to the local Boston area, it might keep the young black citizens off the streets and at home, and that might avert a riot. Local station WGBH agreed to televise it. The mayor went on the air the day before the show and told the ticket buyers “the concert would be televised, stay at home, and full refunds would be given to all.”
When Mr. Brown heard that everyone was getting their money back, he went to the mayor and said he wasn’t doing the concert for free. He had legitimate expenses, and the city should pay him. Mr. White asked “how much,” and James said $60,000 would do it. White said the city didn’t have that kind of money, but he would find it somewhere. Mr. Brown only received $10,000. No one could say, or would say, where the rest of it went. Of course, the show went on, as it must.
Despite all the terrible things that were going on around the country, and despite his grief at the death of Dr. King, Mr. Brown and his band produced a great show. His smiling and cutting up with the band during the show caused some people in the black community to doubt how saddened he really was. But he was fighting through his pain so that he could give his viewers at home and at the Garden the kind of show for which he was famous. Near the end of the show some people rushed the stage. The white security officers threw them off. Mr. Brown saw that things were getting out of control, and he ordered his band to stop. He started talking directly to the crowd, got them cooled down, and order was restored. Mr. Brown had gotten to the crowd by saying, “We’re Black, we’re Black, we’re Black. I figure I can get some respect from my own people.”
And he did. There was no riot in Boston that night. No one was on the street; they were all watching television. Boston was one of only a few major cities that was not torched that sad weekend. The Rev. Al Sharpton said, “James Brown did not stop a riot in Boston. Because of him, there was no riot to stop in Boston.”
Come see us; admission is free, but we will accept a donation, if you wish to make one.