Editorial – Honoring Bernhardt – The good that he can do
The luncheon honoring former Salisbury Mayor Paul Bernhardt Tuesday was a step back in time to the days when Bernhardt was mayor and the country was in turmoil.
Who can forget the shock of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 and the anger that swept the nation? As one author has put it, the United States became “A Nation on Fire,” with looting in Washington, violence in Chicago and disturbances in nearly 120 cities. The nation was still heavily segregated, and the civil rights movement had heightened awareness. When a bullet felled King, advocate of peace and passive resistance, many black Americans decided the time for passivity was over.
Livingstone College students felt compelled to take action, too, but in more constructive ways than the rioters and looters. They applied to the city for a permit to march, and Mayor Bernhardt approved it.
Bernhardt has always had a strong sense of right and wrong, and allowing the students to demonstrate in support of the slain civil rights leader was the right thing to do.
The Post covered the results:
“Livingstone College students and faculty members late this morning held a brief but penetrating ceremony on the courthouse steps and then sent telegrams showing their emotions and regret over the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.
“The events were part of an organized, slow-moving and peaceful march. …”
A Livingstone professor, the Rev. Robert Clayton, addressed the gathering.
“We are all Americans,” he said. “We are not here to riot but to proclaim our belief in the ideals (of Martin Luther King Jr.). We will not throw bricks, but we will throw ballots.”
He urged people to register to vote, in King’s honor.
The peacefulness of that demonstration owes to several things ó Bernhardt’s decision not to have the city try to stand in the students’ way, the Livingstone officials’ wise judgment and strong leadership, and the dignity of the students themselves.
Mayor Susan Kluttz has used her Spirit Luncheons to highlight progress in race relations and community unity. This week’s luncheon, which paid homage to Bernhardt, reminded everyone of how different that era was, and how fortunate Salisbury was to navigate it peacefully under wise and fair-minded leadership.
Bryan Beatty read a short, fitting poem to the luncheon crowd, one read to him decades ago by his father, O.K. Beatty, the first black member of the Salisbury City Council. The full poem, “What I Live For,” by George Linnaeus Banks, goes like this:
“I live for those who love me, for those who know me true; for the heaven that smiles above me and awaits my spirit too. For the cause that lacks assistance, for the wrong that needs resistance, for the future in the distance, and the good that I can do.”
Bernhardt is certainly one who has lived for the good that he can do, and Salisbury is better for it.