As we approach the 28th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration, I am reminded, not only of the transformative contributions Dr. King made to our country, but alsothe efforts of the King familyfollowing his death to preserve the memory of his struggles and triumphs, so that future generations would know of the sacrifices made to advance the cause of freedom and equality.
Although seldom discussed, I will never forget an encounter that took place during my time as an Assistant Secretary in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon-Ford Administration. At the time, I was one of the highest ranking African Americans serving in the federal government, in a Republican Administration.
The country was racially divided and domestically still attempting to recover from the riots that had ravaged many urban communities, including the District of Columbia, following Dr. King's assassination. It was late one afternoon when I received a call from a prominent civil rights leader asking that I agree to meet on a subject of great importance. He asked further that I keep confidential the fact that this meeting would take place and that the location not be disclosed to ensure the safety of the participants.
Understanding the significance of this request, I excused my assigned driver and drove myself, with nerves on edge and heart rate racing to the location given to me at the last minute. I travelled through the winding roads and circles that encompass the District, bypassing as best as possible, areas of destruction still smoldering with the lingering discontent of the times. Once I arrived at the instructed destination, the Hilton Hotel, I was escorted to a suite with nicely appointed with refreshments, in which sat the widow of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Coretta Scott King.
Surprised and humbled by what was later to become a private audience, I struggled to keep my composure and contain my enthusiasm. We exchanged pleasantries and a bit of small talk, but it was clear that Mrs. King was here on a mission. She had come to Washington to explore federal help for the struggling King Center in Atlanta and a number of affiliated nonprofit organizations that were also having difficulty maintaining their government backed housing projects. She also had come specifically to ask for my guidance and assistance as Assistant Secretary of HUD.
Reflecting on the ultimate sacrifice she and her family had made to advance the civil rights movement, I was honored to have been invited to meet with her and felt it was my duty to find a way to assist. As Assistant Secretary, I had the use of discretionary funds within my budget which I committed to support the Center. I also worked to secure the same commitment from my colleague, the late Assistant Secretary David Meeker, who without hesitation agreed and helped put together a package of support that stabilized the Center and restructured many of the properties held by the Church.
Although a small part of The Dream, I will forever consider this unexpected encounter and as one of the highlights of my career and personal contribution toward advancing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through support of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
The Honorable H.R. Crawford is a Former Council Member for Ward 7 and Former Assistant Secretary, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Nixon-Ford Administration.