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April 13
, 2008


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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April 13, 2008

Dr. King's Early Spring Afternoon

A hastily arranged commemoration of Martin Luther King’s day of death is a success that may happen again

We had a second Martin Luther King day in Lincoln Park this year, a brief but very nice ceremony at the King Memorial in our neighborhood. This was a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the American revolutionary patriot’s assassination at a Memphis, Tennessee motel parking lot by unknown assailants.

The great man was in town to organize the local sanitation workers to strike for better pay, working conditions and respect. As one commentator put it, “he died on the battlefield.” Thanks to that song by the Irish band U2, the whole world remembers the date, day of the week and location of Dr. King’s death. (“Early morning, April Fourth, shots ring out in the Memphis sky...”)

My Albany County legislator Luci McKnight was not going to let this anniversary pass without note. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Luci was not able to get the City (read: Mayor Jennings) to agree to the ceremony until Friday, two days before the event. I’m not sure how she managed it, perhaps she told The Mayor that if he did not agree to this then the South End would rise up and obliterate the existing political order. Or something like that.

Kids Un-self-consciously Reading The Wall
Kids Un-self-consciously Reading The Wall

Ironically it was Friday night April 4 that I received my first notice of the Sunday event from Luci, which I exasperatedly passed on to the people in my neighborhood. Well, I was glad to see the notice. I only wished I’d known that the event had received little publicity, I would have alerted more people using the magic of the internet.

Good thing I did send out emails, I believe without exaggeration that at least half of the people who attended the ceremony did so because of my messages. As it was, members of the public present barely outnumbered the public officials and media workers.

Before the event started, Luci recruited me and my pickup truck to haul her big wreath from her Third Avenue doorway. “It’s huge,” she told me, “it might not fit in your truck.” I doubted that, but I nagged The Wife into handing over her secret stash of bungee cords in case I had to strap it to the top.

Naturally, the wreath fit nicely on the clean drop cloth I’d laid on the bed of my truck. As I drove slowly uphill to the Memorial with Luci driving her sedan behind me, I had the odd feeling that I was leading a funeral procession, and I’d better be extra careful or the body might slide out and hit the pavement.

We set up the wreath with plenty of time before the 1 PM ceremony. We took note of the lack of upkeep at the Memorial, with random piles of decaying leaves and sticks from last Fall in odd corners. Most of the light fixtures, meant to illuminate the statue, were broken or missing bulbs. This does not reflect well on the City administration.

Luci McKnight Greets George Infante
Luci McKnight Greets George Infante

The first arrival at the Memorial was my former Albany County legislator, George Infante. (I haven’t moved, the lines moved.) Actually, George had been sitting in his car waiting for someone else to arrive.

“You know what we need here?” he told us. “Some foot-long hot dogs, a barbecue grill, buns and Gulden’s mustard. Now, that would really hit the spot.”

Indeed the weather was excellent, an early spring afternoon with Lincoln Park’s stationary life forms almost trembling in the sunshine, ready to come alive again. The official MLK commemoration day in the middle of January is often cold and windy, and other years terribly cold. Some years the weather is so bad only lunatics show up and hang around at the site.

George was right, this April day was much better. Public officials began arriving, it’s always fun to watch them greet each other and schmooze like movie stars. To my relief, regular type people also began arriving as one o’clock approached. This despite the lack of a barbecue grill.

DA Soares Greeted By The Mayor, As Seen Over Dominick Calsolaro's Broad Shoulders
DA Soares Greeted By The Mayor, As Seen Over Dominick Calsolaro's Broad Shoulders

Pastor David Traynham of the New Horizons Christian Church on Catherine Street was greeted warmly by the public officials. It seems that they had neglected to bring an actual religious community leader to lead the prayer and invocation. The Pastor gladly and graciously agreed to say a few words.

Pastor Traynham thanked me profusely as I shook his hand. “I want to thank you for sending the email,” he said. “It was the only notice I’d received, but I was able to bring along some members of our congregation.”

The arrival of Albany County District Attorney David Soares almost upstaged the Mayor of Albany. Mayor Jennings greeted Mr. Soares warmly, and made a point of treating him like an ally and a buddy. Indeed, there was little evident in the way of rivalry at this event, political or otherwise.

Mayor Jennings Speaks
Mayor Jennings Speaks

Despite the nice weather, the speechifying was short and to the point. The Mayor remarked on the current focus on gun violence and crime in Albany, emphasizing Dr. King’s nonviolent methods. This went along with Dr. King’s statements on the wall behind him, which were carefully selected to focus on this aspect of the great man’s work when he was alive.

Pastor Traynham Invocates
Pastor Traynham Invocates

I suppose it would be too much to expect elected officials of any sort to glorify Dr. King’s defiance of authority and revolutionary tactics. Nonviolence means exactly that, causing radical change in society by choosing to use methods that do not destroy lives or property. When violence is not necessary, taught Dr. King, it should not be used.

This point is particularly poignant for me. I was eleven years old when Dr. King was murdered, and my father, like most of the adults that I grew up with, was grinning that Sunday. “Good,” he said. “I’m glad he’s dead. He was nothing but a god damn n----r.”

Well, the next day the racist numbskull rode around in his dump truck listening to AM radio commentators, who told him that now that Dr. King was dead the militants would take over the black community. By supper time he was a changed man. “It’s a tragedy, too bad he’s dead,” he pronounced hastily over spaghetti and meatballs.

A few years later I developed the courage to ask the old man why he hated black people (and Jews) so much. “When you grow up you’ll understand,” he shouted at me. Well, now I’m older than he was when I asked that question, and I still don’t understand. Surprisingly, I’ve never been afflicted much with self-hatred.

Some Of The Crowd, Comptroller Tom Nitido Flanked By Common Council Members Barbara Smith And  Richard Conti In Fron
Some Of The Crowd, Comptroller Tom Nitido Flanked By Common Council Members Barbara Smith And
Richard Conti In Front

Forty years and two days later in Lincoln Park the brief speechifying and praying finished. Luci recruited The Mayor to haul out the big wreath and place it at Dr. King’s feet. Earlier she told me that she would “make him help carry it,” but he seemed willing enough. After all, such things are an important part of his job.

The wreath was very light and not too big, but it had a flimsy wire stand. Luci and The Mayor fumbled with it while those standing nearby threatened to pitch in and help. Eventually they managed to set it up and have a solemn moment.

Luci McKnight and Mayor Jerry Jennings

Unlike in January, there was lot of lingering afterward. It was, after all, a nice Sunday afternoon. George was right, a hot dog would have been perfect at that moment. For the weather alone, I think that the commemoration of Dr. King’s life should be switched from January to April.

There’s another reason to change the day of the holiday. It has never made much sense to me to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, his life achievements did not happen in his cradle. But his sudden death by assassination brought home to all of us how much we needed him.

Not that I’m complaining. Making Dr. King’s birthday a holiday was a great victory for America. Radical extremist politicians such as Ronnie Reagan and John McCain fought long and bitterly to stop enactment of the holiday. Insane McCain actually almost succeeded in repealing the holiday in Arizona. These dirtbag politicos did this to appeal to their racist constituencies, upon which they depend for votes.

My Neighbors Suzy And Delphi During Pastor Traynham's Prayer
My Neighbors Suzy And Delphi
During Pastor Traynham's Prayer

Still, it would be nice every year to linger around the statue in the warm sunshine and maybe have a little something to eat. Luci and several others agreed with me that it would be good to do this every year on or near April 4. “I’ll see to it that we do it again,” she told me.

After most people had left, Luci examined the ground to one side of the Memorial. “Uh-oh,” she said, “it looks like The Mayor and I stepped on some shoots when we moved the wreath. Are they tulips? Do you think they’ll be all right?”

Without really knowing, I assured her that the flowers would be all right. I figured they were one of those things that you can trample, but can’t keep down.

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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by: Legislator Luci Mcknight
Posted on:
Gee, thanks Dan for a wonderful article. I must first correct you, you picked up the wreath from my Third Avenue home. Plus I also got some assistance from Albany Police Cheif, James Tuffey. You are right about the late notice in announcing this special event. I worked closely with Bob Vanamburgh, Mayor Jenning's Administrative Assistant who informed me of the conflicts he had due to the pre-planned missing persons event at the NYS Empire Plaza. Moreover, we all know that this was the first Sunday of the month and most ministers are in church during this time periiod. Next year we will take this fact into consideration as we plan. Maybe a hot dog cart will work too.

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on:

Hi Luci. Second, Third, what's the difference? Correction made, my brain must have sneezed.

Thanks for clarifying. I hadn't realized that Chief Tuffey had helped make things happen. He didn't speak during the ceremony, in a couple of the photos you can see him standing quietly off to one side. So he deserves credit.

Seriously, let's do this next year.

Posted by: Roger Green
Posted on:
Well,if you sent an e-mail to me, I never got it. Didn't know about it until I read about it. Don't you know I'm a big media maven?! ;-)

Posted by: Dan Weaver
Posted on:
Excellent article. A great example of citizen journalism.

Posted by: classicmale91
Posted on:
How come you DIDN'T write anything about ST. PATRICK'S DAY? Are you PREJUDICED against the IRISH?

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