“I Remember”

Dad w.MLKI remember the March on Washington. Although I was just a kid, I remember the excitement around the household as my Dad prepared to escort a group of celebrities—including Sammy Davis Jr., Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston—to the March.
    As the Executive Director of the Western Christian Leadership Conference—then the western arm of the SCLC—my Dad was responsible for raising upwards of $5 million for the Civil Rights movement from Hollywood A-listers and Beverly Hills elite while coordinating the schedule of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whenever he visited Los Angeles.
    “If you wanted to see Dr. King in Los Angeles,” my Dad would say, “you had to go through him.
    In fact, a google search of my Dad, G. Mansfield Collins, will yield a letter from Dr. King’s personal collection from my Dad, apprising him of his schedule on one such trip to Los Angeles.
    Yet, for all the swagger of that statement, my Dad rarely talks about those days and has few mementos to show for it, so it is during the celebration of key moments in civil rights history when my brothers and I pay close attention to historical footage of Dr. King in Los Angeles where my Dad’s relationship to him is well documented.
    Such was the case last month during a CNN special on the March on Washington there in some of the footage was my Dad and as NBC’s Conan Nolan spoke of Dr. King’s many trips to Los Angeles on his Sunday program, “News Conference”, there also was my Dad escorting Dr. King off the plane and standing to his left as he greeted local officials.
    What he lacks in mementos, my Dad makes up for in a wealth of memories of that time and the March in Washington where he—at 92—proudly recalls that he sat just 15 feet in front of the podium between Sammy Davis Jr. and Marlon Brando.
    In the hours leading up to the speech he was one of a handful of King aids—including Wyatt T. Walker and Bayard Rustin (the man my Dad credited as being the true architect of the March On Washington)—shuttled back in forth from the Willard Hotel and the Marriott where they were huddled up going over the points Dr. King needed to touch on during that monumental moment in history.
    “Martin”, he recalls, “was scribbling. He was a big scribbler. He had about five speeches and he mixed them all up, so we’d already heard them all and he didn’t really write anything new. But aside from the speeches, he was a preacher and that’s where no one could touch him. That day in August, all the preacher came out in him and it was something glorious.We knew right away he had scored a huge home run.”
    Dad w. King2My Dad had met Dr. King in 1961 through a mutual friend, Rev. Maurice Dawkins. 
    “Maurice called me to come and meet him while Martin was in town. I did and we hit it off. The very next time Martin came to town, he said “Where’s Collins”. Maurice called and said he was asking for me and from that day on we remained close friends until he died.”
    “Such a nice man”, my Dad reflected. “I miss him, but he lived a full life, cramming in all he could cause he knew one day some crazy person was going to assassinate him. It was inevitable.
    “I remember calling him from the office once to talk to him about coming out to Los Angeles and a voice came on the phone and said ‘brother if you come out here we’re going to kill you. Martin said coyly, almost teasing, ‘brother, why you gonna do that. You know I love all white folks.’
    “Martin was a comedian”, my father chuckles as he recalled the conversation. “We had a good laugh about that. But I also alerted the intelligence department of the LAPD.”
    Looking back, laughter was what I remembered most about Dr. King. Despite the seriousness of what he did, he enjoyed life and a good laugh. His coming to town was always a good time. There was excitement, rides in limos, great food, lots of joke telling and a wealth of people like Andrew Young and Wyatt T. Walker in whose presence I was inspired to dream big. 
    I remember that we got a pool table in our house because he loved to play billiards. That he was an impeccable dresser. That he drew people to him. That he dared to dream.
    Truth is, I like to think that some part of my drive and resolve was the result of the close encounters I had as a kid with a man who became an international legend and the front row seat I had—courtesy of my father— to the movement Dr. King led to change the world.
    I also remember that they were so young—Dr. King in his thirties, Andrew Young just 31 at the March on Washington; John Lewis, just 23,—and yet so purposed in their pursuits and their resolve. I only wish we had more of that same resolve now.
    There is a deep sense of pride that wells up inside of me with the knowledge that this great man was once part of my life and that I remember it so well. 
    Check out some of the highlights of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington on page 19, and keep the faith.

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