Harlem Activist Remembers Slain Civil Rights Hero, interview by -Cheryl Wills
ny1.com, February 11, 2008
NY1 celebrates Black History Month with a week-long salute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and those who are working to keep his dream alive. NY1’s Cheryl Wills filed the following report. At 84, Harlem resident Dabney Montgomery is both living Dr. Martin Luther King's dream and, 40 years after his death, working to keep it alive. He knew King as a student years before the civil rights leader became famous. One of his few mementos is his 50-year-old address book, which bears King's Atlanta address. The two even shared a godmother, making them like brothers. "He could sit down and talk with you or anyone, and you could see that this young man is going to make a mark – somewhere,” says Montgomery. Together, the two would make quite a mark during the civil rights movement. For five days and four terrifying nights in 1965, Montgomery was one of King's personal bodyguards during the third Selma to Montgomery March. He says he was prepared to die to ensure King's safety along state Highway 80. "if we saw anyone pulling a knife or gun out, to go to him, push him to the ground and fall on top of him,” he says. Devastated after King's death in 1968, the Alabama-born activist proved that he was down but not out. He settled into Harlem where he became a community activist, inspiring young people by joining grass roots efforts. He loved the protest march,” says Montgomery’s wife Amelia Montgomery. “He would sacrifice everything to go." And Montgomery also became a leader and historian at the oldest black church in New York: Mother AME Zion. "He's always been one to motive, always been one to inspire," says author and activist Yvonne Davis. Still, that's just the half of Montgomery's story. He is a proud veteran of the Tuskegee Airmen – a group of African American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II. He has received dozens of honors. He met President Bush and received the congressional gold medal. He has been featured in a number of documentaries like this one called "Flying for Freedom: untold stories of the Tuskegee Airmen." And as one of the survivors of both WWII and the civil rights movements, Montgomery says he still lives by King's philosophy. "Don't let fear prevent you from doing anything that's positive,” he says. “Go ahead and do it!"