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Paul Bernhardt honored for improving race relations

By Noelle Edwards
nedwards@salisburypost.com
Mayor Susan Kluttz stood in front of a room full of people Tuesday afternoon to recognize another mayor. Paul Bernhardt became Salisbury’s mayor in 1967, and the city honored him at the Mayor’s Spirit Luncheon.
The luncheon, held twice a year, highlights improvements in race relations in Salisbury.
Kluttz said Bernhardt played a key role in Salisbury race relations. He was mayor when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, and in a video from a couple years ago shown during the lunch meeting, Bernhardt himself told the story of what happened in Salisbury that night.
He said on the video the night King was killed, Livingstone students wanted to march through town. The police chief at that time wouldn’t give them a permit, but Bernhardt agreed to meet with them at about 2 a.m. He said on the video they seemed nice enough and promised not to cause problems, so he himself granted them a permit.
“I don’t think I had authority to grant it, but I did it anyway,” he said in the video.
The next day, he marched with them. Salisbury never saw the violence other cities saw in reaction to King’s death.
E.L. “Sonny” Allen, another former Salisbury mayor, spoke during the lunch and said he thinks that night was a turning point in Salisbury for race relations.
“Everybody won something,” he said.
On the video, Bernhardt also told the story of integrating the YMCA. He said it was one of the hardest places to integrate.
He pushed the 12-member board to allow black people to join the Y, but the board was split 6-6, and none of the resisting board members would budge.
Livingstone students planned to picket outside the YMCA building, but shortly before they set up, a board member called Bernhardt and told him he was going to change his vote.
On the video, Bernhardt said the board member had been driving past the YMCA and saw white children playing in the pool and black children standing outside the fence, looking in. He told Bernhardt that wasn’t right.
Bryan Beatty, son of former Mayor Pro Tem Dr. O.K. Beatty, also gave remarks at the luncheon. His father, who died a few years ago, was the first black person elected to City Council and was on the board with Bernhardt.
Beatty said his father and Bernhardt were able to work together so well and were such good friends because they shared a vision for what things could be like between black and white people in Salisbury.
Beatty said he himself benefitted from Bernhardt’s work on integrating the YMCA; he was a child when the recreation center ended segregation.
“I spent many wonderful summer afternoons at the Y, in that pool,” he said.
Kluttz presented Bernhardt with a key to the city, what she said was the highest honor a city could give someone.
“Usually mayors are giving these out, not receiving them,” she said.

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