Jan. 15—WILKES-BARRE — In the mid-1960s, I played on the Junior Barons — a group of area basketball players who played before the Wilkes-Barre Barons games at the Kingston Armory.
These were awesome times. The big Barons played in the Eastern Basketball league and had great stars who today would be stars in the NBA for sure.
Look it up if you don't believe me.
Anyway, the Junior Barons were undefeated for three years as I recall. Our starting five consisted of Mitchell Johnson, Mark Brislin and Preston Cross of Meyers, Tyrone McMullins of Coughlin and me, of Plymouth.
And we had a great bench too. Our coach was "Pop" Hughes.
Back in those days, civil rights was a cause that saw some very ugly scenes. All those news clips were frightening to me. I had played on the Junior Barons and we had African Americans on our team — we were friends. And the big Barons, well they all were gentlemen and they would often offer us tips on how we could better our game.
There were no "color lines" that couldn't be crossed.
Fast forward to the 1990s when I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Alex Haley, author of "Roots," the book that told the troubling story of slavery in the United States. Haley traced his ancestors all the way back to The Gambia in Africa and a young man named Kunta Kinte.
Mr. Haley told me that ABC-TV decided to film some scenes in The Gambia and when word of it got to the villages where Kunta Kinte came from, the leadership of those villages requested that Haley come there to tell the story.
You see, for generations these villagers had heard stories of young warriors who left their villages and went into the jungle to hunt and gather supplies and never returned. Yes, for generations, they never knew what had happened to these young men and women.
Mr. Haley said he agreed to address the villagers. When that day arrived, Mr. Haley told me that as he waited to give his address, he looked out and saw hundreds of, as he described, "very dark-skinned Africans." Mr. Haley, an African American, said he felt self-conscious because his skin was much lighter than theirs.
And then Mr. Haley told me this:
"As soon as I felt self-conscious, I also realized something — nobody cared. Those villagers didn't care if I was green, purple or plaid. All they cared about was the information I had about all of those warriors who disappeared generations ago."
Racism is a learned trait that just never seems to go away. It just refuses to be eradicated. Granted, many more people today are accepting and tolerant.
The civil rights struggle was an awful time in our history. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a man we all could look up to. He was a true leader.
As he said, Dr. King "had a dream."
Dr. King offered so many meaningful, inspirational quotes:
—"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."
—"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
—"The time is always right to do what is right."
—"Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity."
—"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
—"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."
—"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
—"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
—"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
—"Let no man pull you so low as to hate him."
—"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"
Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist, one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968.
Dr. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Ga.
He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn.
Remember Dr. King this weekend and on his day. Remember him and his words every day.
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.
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