King’s dreams realized at the News-Herald

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2005

On Monday, the day of observance for Dr. Martin Luther King Day, the perfect place to have visited would have been the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Ga. On the weekend of April 7, 2002, the Atlanta Chapter of Les Gemmes hosted the National Conclave and the husband of the chapter’s president took the five of us from the Suffolk chapter on a private tour in which that center was included. I visited that location again in June 2003 when my club hosted a trip to New Orleans. Each tour left me an appreciation and admiration for the man whose fight for equal rights changed many lives. I then focused on how his dream became a part of mine and others’ dreams here at the paper.

The center includes the Eternal Flame, which symbolizes the continuing effort to realize King’s ideas for the &uot;Beloved Community,&uot; which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles. There is a huge pond that holds King’s crypt and gravesite in the center and a place called Freedom Hall, which is the primary exhibition facility. This facility contains a grand foyer, large theater, conference auditorium, gift shop, resource center, and various works of art, both domestic and international. The gift shop holds items such as tapes of King’s marches, souvenir shirts and sweaters, key rings and many other items. Television sets are hung high along the hallways, showing King’s marches and speeches.

In the late 1940s or early 1950s, Gilbert Allen was employed at the News-Herald to write what was called in that day, &uot;The Colored News.&uot; He was followed by Albert Jones in the mid-50s, who was himself followed by Raymond Boone. All three black men and the office that they worked in was located in the rear of the building. No black women were employed at that time.

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When I was married on Dec. 24, 1969, I had been employed as a school secretary at Oakland Elementary School since October 1965. My son was born on July 12, 1971 and if a school secretary left for maternity reasons, there was no guarantee that her job would be opened to her when she got ready to return, and she would have to reapply. My job was filled so I sought employment elsewhere.

One day when I passed the News-Herald, I saw a Help Wanted ad for a typesetter placed on the front window. I was hesitant about applying because there were no blacks there but, after the insistence of my husband to do so, I came in, passed the written and typing test, and was hired. That was in April 1972.

My typesetting duties placed me into a little room with two other white women and one of them didn’t want to work in the same room with me. Because she had to accept the working arrangements or leave, she left around September 1972 and another black woman was hired to take her place. New equipment came in along with new employees. I stayed the course, stayed on my knees and beat the odds. Every time I was given a hard assignment to perform by them, things always worked themselves out.

In 1985 I worked my way up to a supervisor and an editorial assistant to editor Mike Kestner. During that year’s Black History Month, he asked me if I would like to try my hand at writing an article pertaining to the subject. That was my first article and was titled, &uot;When I Was Your Age.&uot; It dealt with life as a teen in the 80s compared to that of a teen in the 60s as I had been. It was a hit and people wanted me to write more. Two black women reporters were also hired in the 80s.

I was disappointed and felt that someone in my race needed to be sitting in that news office. Along with my other duties, I continued to write a few columns under the title of Editorial Assistant. Later I extended these columns to get more exposure. They included human-interest columns from the black community so that blacks could get more of their news exposed.

I later extended my writing to include the handicapped to include a variety of news. I solicited the help of the late Ed Gray, a watch repairman who was also handicapped and worked at Barr Bros. Jewelers. These articles were written under the logo, &uot;Overcoming Adversity.&uot;

I also sought the articles of white readers so I joined the YMCA Chorus in the late 80s to get more exposure from the white community. During that time, I was also promoted to the position of composing room supervisor and the load was getting to be too much so I quit writing for about one year.

In December 1990 when Tim Copeland was editor he called me into his office to tell me that readers wanted me to start writing again. He offered me a wage for each column and agreed to name the column in my honor under the logo &uot;Off The Wall.&uot; I wrote my very first column under this logo in January 1991.

Meanwhile during the 90s, a few employed blacks were also being promoted and one employed in the newsroom. When our owner, Boone Newspapers, decided to move the press to Ahoskie, N.C., I had proven that I could handle the position of a full-time reporter and in January 1998 was moved to the front office with my very own desk and computer. The dream that I had heard King speak about in his &uot;I Have A Dream&uot; speech became a reality for me. I was writing the &uot;Off The Wall Column,&uot; along with happening news with both black and white input.

And now the present publisher, Andy Prutsok, has made that same dream real for another black woman in the front news office when he made her the first black female managing editor in July 2004.

These fulfilled dreams caused King’s death not to have been in vain.

Evelyn Wall, a retired staff writer for the News-Herald, is a regular columnist. She can be reached at 934-9615.