Niles minister recalls being part of historic day

Published 2:22 pm Friday, August 29, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- When people congregated in Washington D.C. last weekend to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the Rev. Harry Pierson of Niles was absent.
That's unlike 40 years ago -- on Aug. 28, 1963 -- when Pierson, who also has dedicated much of his life to fight for civil rights, watched Dr. King speak to the 250,000, peace-loving Americans who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
But the 71-year old, who for the last eight years has been the pastor at Franklin American Methodist Episcopal Church in Niles and holds a doctor of theology degree, was there in spirit.
At his home on Broadway Street in Niles on Thursday, Pierson, who knew Dr. King personally, explained what it was like to be a part of the large crowd that marched on Washington, and the atmosphere in the nation's capital during the days leading up to Dr. King's speech.
Pierson said he travelled to Washington D.C with friends from the University of Chicago in a VW van covered in peace symbols.
Pierson said the camaraderie between people from all nationalities and religious backgrounds was "beautiful."
He also said the spirit was high and people were motivated by earlier get-togethers with Dr. King.
Pierson remembers sitting on the grass, before the speech thinking to himself: "I am going to be a part of history."
One of his best memories from being in Washington at the time, however, was the feeling of seeing something unfold and watching people just being together.
Although the FBI and the National Guard were ready to quell an event that some expected would become violent, Pierson said things never got out of hand.
Although Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech has become synonymous with the struggle for civil rights in this and other countries throughout the world, Pierson said the speech has in this country never materialized to Dr. King's ideal.
In his private life, Dr. King was just like any other person, said Pierson, who had the privilege to meet and work with the civil rights advocate on several occasions.
He wonders how Dr. King will be remembered in the future.
Most people remember Dr. King by his most famous speech only.
He wonders what people are doing today to make Dr. King's dream a reality.
He blames many of the problems on drugs and the fact that people aren't doing enough to learn how to live together.
People of all ages and groups of society coming together: "This is the part of the dream we are missing," he said.
Pierson, who underwent six by-pass operations four years ago, said he felt strongly about his involvement in the civil rights movement.
He is therefore continually trying to convince people at his own church that something needs to be done to improve relationships between people of all colors.