Retired journalist Dwight Lewis addressed the significance of the year 2018 as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of Nashville’s oldest and longest existing organizations kicked off Dr. Martin Luther King Day with a pre-march reception at their North Nashville offices. Noted journalist and The Tennessean columnist Dwight Lewis ended his four decades at The Tennessean as presiding editor of the editorial page, where he used his pen to bring light to the injustices inflicted by those in power.
“Dwight Lewis is a trailblazer for the Nashville community as a whole,” said N.A.A.C.P. – Nashville Branch president Luyde N. Wallace. “If it were not for his, and the late John Seigenthaler’s courage to tackle the tough stories of civil rights, many would not truly understand the oppression against black communities. This Martin Luther King Day, it is an honor to have the ability to listen to and ask questions of the man who brought our fight and concerns to the public, through print.”
Mr. Lewis reflected upon the day he learned of Dr. King’s assassination. It was one he and most of us who were alive then will never forget, and it left indelible memories, of which he shared a few with the early morning breakfast reception attendees.
“Unfortunately I never got the chance to meet Dr. King before his death on April 4, 1968,” Lewis shared. “I do remember on the night that he was assassinated, I was walking down Centennial Boulevard from the campus of Tennessee State University, headed to the Kennedy apartments where I lived.”
Lewis recalled the disturbances that immediately followed Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, from the Tennessee National Guard troops arriving in North Nashville to a citywide curfew. Mr. Lewis traveled the country, interviewing many well-known people such as boxing great Muhammad Ali and others.
He made it a point that on several occasions, he interviewed the convicted assassin of Dr. King, James Earl Ray, and that Ray continually insisted until the day that he died that he did not kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis disagreed and still thinks Ray was both a liar and a murderer. “I have no doubt,” he asserted. “James Earl Ray pulled the trigger.”
Mr. Lewis noted the special significance of the present year 2018. In addition to 2018 being the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, it will also be the 50th anniversary of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which was organized by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 28, 1967, and charged to investigate the civil unrest that was erupting all across the nation. The results of the study, best known as the Kerner Commission, were published on March 1st, 1968. The study reviewed three critical questions: what happened; why did it happen; and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. One of the Commission members was the only African American US Senator at the time, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
In their basic conclusion, they note that “Our nation is moving toward two societies — one black, one white — separate and unequal. During a nationally televised address, President Johnson delivered the final conclusion of the Kerner Commission study and made this profound analysis of the solution to the crisis. “The long range solution lies in an attack manner at every level, upon conditions such as ignorance, poverty, and discrimination, that breed despair and violence,” said Johnson then.
Mr. Lewis noted that with the date of March 1, 2018, a half century after the Commission’s report, that each of us should get a copy and pose the question: are we still moving toward separate but unequal societies, perhaps even three of them today — one black, one brown, and one white? He echoed the sentiment of President Johnson decades ago, reminding the audience that they are not to be frightened by conflict, but to become fired up by conscience.
It’s that same consciousness and conscientiousness that keeps the NAACP Nashville branch on the front lines, fighting for the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all people. The Nashville branch was extremely active over the past year. It recently rallied for the preservation of Fort Negley, the Union Army fort built by African Americans. The Nashville branch’s lifetime membership luncheon attracted scores of students and brought in new members. As the NAACP enters 2018, it does so with a strategic plan to combat 21st century threats.