By David Denson, Gary Crusader
Civil Rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton says participating in the 1972 National Black Political Convention was a life changing event.
The controversial TV and radio talk show host, who also heads the National Action Network, was the guest speaker at a fundraiser sponsored by the National Civil Rights Institute and Hall of Fame Sunday, August 12 at the Genesis Convention Center.
At the age of 18 he attended the convention, held in Gary, along with thousands of other political activists from around the country.
“A very powerful Black political leader in New York named Percy Sutton, who was the Manhattan borough president, said to my mother ‘there is going to be a gathering in Gary, Indiana, and I want to bring Al to that gathering. I think it is something he needs to go to because he needs to see Black men that are about the business of building something for Black people, and I was on the platform committee of the convention at the age of 18,” said Sharpton.
For Sharpton and many others the Black Political Convention was a transformative experience. “To understand the significance, you have to put it all in context. In 1968 Dr. King was killed. King had a global reputation but a regional movement. The first time we gathered everybody together, whether they were nationalist, revolutionary or whatever they were, was when Dick Hatcher and Amiri Baraka and Congressman Charles Diggs called us together. It was the first time we collectively got together after the assassination of Dr. King,” said Sharpton.
According to Sharpton there would not have been a movement if the Black Political Convention had not happened. “The factions that were fighting each other, and this coming together in Gary, that empowered all of us. Though there was friction and fighting by the end of the convention we all learned that we may have different lanes, but we were on the same highway,” continued Sharpton.
Sharpton believes that building a Civil Rights Hall of Fame in Gary is essential for young and old. “One of the reasons we need to have this museum in Gary is that our children need landmarks. Because if you don’t have landmarks you’ll get lost. What we need this Hall of Fame and museum for, is to reconnect. Because they need to understand what we have done so they will know what we can do. We need to make this a reality,” said Sharpton.
In addition to being a fundraiser, the event recognized National Civil Rights Day, which was authorized by Congress in 1987.
During the program several local citizens were recognized for their contributions to the fight for civil rights.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson received the Maxine Waters Government Freedom Award, named for California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a noted politician and political activist. Freeman-Wilson is a Harvard graduate; she has been mayor since 2011.
Carolyn McCrady, a retired school teacher and activist from Gary was honored with the Burton Wechsler Equal Opportunity Award. Wechsler was a Gary native, and 1949 Harvard Law School graduate who was active in civil rights.
Attorney Douglas Grimes who practices law in Gary, was recognized with the Thurgood Marshall Legal Justice Award. Marshall, who won the groundbreaking 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, was the first African American Justice on the Supreme Court.