As the Bay Area prepares to celebrate another national holiday honoring the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Post News Group staff is reminded of how intertwined Dr. King’s mission and family’s legacy is with the newspaper and the Oakland Bay Area.
Gay Plair Cobb, wife of Post publisher Paul Cobb, marched with Dr. King in 1963 at the March for Jobs in Washington. She still is carrying on that tradition of demanding economic justice with her leadership of the Oakland Private Industry Council.
Gay also founded the Nelson Mandela Training Center that prepares minorities for construction-related jobs and she is still advocating for more jobs in the Bay Area’s economic boom.
“If Dr. King were alive today, he would be urging me and others to continue to speak the truth of economic justice through jobs to the powerful at the city, county, state and federal levels of government as well as the business leaders,” said Paul Cobb.
“When we lived in Atlanta in 1973 through 1976, Gay and I—along with Beni Ivey, who is now the Executive Director of Martin Luther King III’s center—had the opportunity to work with the late Coretta Scott King, Congressman John Lewis and Senator Julian Bond,” he said.
The Post archives record how Dr. King spoke at the Oakland Auditorium in December 28, 1962, before a 7,000-plus crowd where the themes of his famous March on Washington speech were tested.
Many of the economic justice ideas that King presented there were a continuation of the calls for reparations and economic restorative justice from the Reconstruction Era Freedmen’s Bank experience that had been presented months earlier at the McClymonds High School “Mind of the Ghetto” Conference, which was sponsored by the AfroAmerican Association.
At that conference, Malcolm X, Don Warden, Cassius Clay, (Muhammad Ali) Floyd McKissick, Will Ussery, Thomas Berkeley, Paul Cobb, Elijah Turner and many other Black leaders participated.
Dr. King was also tutored by the late Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams of Berkeley, while they were students at Boston University.
Rev. Ray Williams, pastor of Morning Star Baptist who attended the historic event, said: “Pastor Edward Stovall of the progressive Baptist Church of Berkeley led a group of ministers into history. He reached across the denominational lines to invite ministers of other faiths, including Rev. Richard Foster, pastor of Cooper AME Zion, Reverend Roy Nichols, a Methodist Leader, activist George Henderson of the Star Baptist Church, Rev. Peyton E. Pierce, President of the Baptist Minister Union, and several leaders of the Catholic Church.”
“The predominantly Black audience signaled for a political awakening that set the stage for the elections of Attorney Thomas Berkeley and Barney Hilburn to the Oakland Board of Education, and Byron Rumford to the State Assembly,” said Williams.
Rev. Frank Pinkard, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church, said, “King captured our desire for economic redemption when he opened his March on Washington speech by saying the US government had given Blacks a note marked ‘insufficient funds.’ That part of the speech should have been equally glamorized as the famous ‘I have a dream’ phrase.”
During an excerpt from that speech, King said: “We have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
“This note was a promise that all men, yes Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’
“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
In 1965, Post publisher Paul Cobb led a group of Oaklanders to march with and report on the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights.
Cobb noted that the father of Assemblymember Rob Bonta was also a part of that march.
Cobb said he sees the BAMBD (Black Arts Movement Business District), as well as the Anti Police-Terror Project’s Spokescouncil Movement, as continuations of the King legacy of activism.
This week Cat Brooks and Tur-Ha Ak will lead activities where people can gather to participate and advocate for direct actions to make positive changes for people in need.