On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most memorable speeches of the 20th Century, the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was one speech among many on that warm, late summer day, and spoke to justice, jobs and equality (‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’). However, history has revealed that Dr. King’s speech was the only one truly remembered. Estimates vary as to the number of people in the crowd around the mall. The official estimate was 250,000 but many believe it was more. Racism on the part of J. Edgar Hoover and others may have minimized the swell of humanity that came together on that day.
In the crowd to see Dr. King was Junius Kellogg. Junius was about 37 years of age and was in a wheelchair due to the accident by then. There is a good possibility that he and his friend Finny Hines got to Washington, D.C. by taking the train out of Penn Station. In fact, something like 10,000 New Yorkers traveled by train down to Washington that day to listen to Dr. King and others. I imagine passenger car after car crowd filled with the boisterous crowd on their way to making history, as they roared through the Mason-Dixon line. There was strength and empowerment in the numbers of people who wanted change.
Junius in the Chair
Junius was still a minor celebrity in those days. We know this pretty much as fact as Junius’ picture was taken by photographers from the Associated Press and transmitted across the country, as well as the African American media including Jet, the Baltimore Afro American and other newspapers and magazines. In some pictures he appears with his friend Finny, who is pushing Junius through the throng while in other pictures he is alone. He wears an outfit in black, with a “poor boy” hat in tan or white.
We don’t know if Junius ever met Dr. King that day or not. But we do know that Junius was profoundly changed by the event. Junius was still employed by Pan Am World Airways at that point and he was still coaching wheelchair basketball. I cannot help but wonder if he was getting restless. About a year after the event, Harlem and the Bedford Stuvesant community of Brooklyn broke out in rioting following a police shooting of an unarmed black teen. It motivated Junius to do something.
In 1966, Junius left Pan Am and joined the HARYOU (Harlem Youth) program which was then a part of the government’s “Great Society” initiative to help revitalize communities such as Harlem. The program was ill-constructed and Junius’ chief job was to try to mentor young people and to close the program down. However, it did serve as an entree to get Junius into the newly-formed New York City Community Development Agency. He had a passion for helping the poor. He served the agency for more than 30 years, and he would rise to their Director of Strategic Planning.