A man with an unwavering faith and determination, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought earnestly in pursuit of equality for all, leaving a legacy that still continues to shine on. On Jan. 16, two individuals with his same dedication and spirit will be honored at the 2014 Spirit of King Award Ceremony to be held at 10 a.m. at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty.
The Spirit of King Award, sponsored by Port Authority, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Kingsley Association and the New Pittsburgh Courier, will be presented to the families of the late Rev. Dr. LeRoy Patrick and August Wilson. The honor is posthumously given to individuals from the Pittsburgh region that have made a lasting impact in the areas of civil rights, education, culture and leadership, while personifying the spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“These individuals were selected because of their dedication, determination and sacrifice toward achieving equal opportunities for all, just like that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Eric Wells, director of Employee Relations, Office of Equal Opportunity, Port Authority, and planning committee member. “We are so very proud to present the families of Rev. Dr. LeRoy Patrick and August Wilson with this honor as a way to acknowledge them and to say thank you.”
Reverend Patrick and Wilson’s names will be placed on a plaque with the previous recipients’ names, and will be displayed at a location that is yet to be determined.
Known as a “Torchbearer” and a “Legend in the Movement,” Rev. Patrick, an activist and pastor who died Jan. 12, 2006 at the age of 90, always had a steadfast love for the Lord and his people. According to his colleagues it was that same love that led him to fight for equal opportunities for Blacks, especially when it came to education, employment and housing. Reverend Patrick earned a master’s degree in divinity and sacred theology from Union Theological Seminary and was later awarded an honorary doctorate from Lincoln University.
For more than 30 years, Rev. Patrick presided over the congregation of Bethesda Presbyterian Church located in Homewood. Under his leadership, the church opened Bethesda Center, an outreach center that provided spiritual and family development to the residents of Homewood.
Reverend Johnnie Monroe, pastor emeritus of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, said, “Rev. Patrick was one of the most concerned persons I know. Dr. Patrick was a preacher; it was his call to the ministry that led him to be concerned about injustice. Wherever he went he made his voice heard. I don’t know a better person that could have been chosen because he lived out the qualities that Dr. King gave his life for.” He added that to honor Rev. Patrick “is a great move and shows his work in Homewood, in Pittsburgh and in Pennsylvania was not in vain.”
Reverend Dr. J.V. Alfred Winsett, pastor emeritus of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in the Hill District, said of Rev. Patrick, “He was one of the finest men that has come through Pittsburgh. It seems to me that he was a man before his time. He was able to mobilize people and break down a lot of doors that were often closed in our face. He was a legend and one that people should seek to emulate in their daily walk.”
While he was a leader spiritually, he was a leader socially as well. Rev. Patrick is known for his instrumental role in the fight to desegregate the public swimming pools in Pittsburgh.
Sala Udin, a friend and co-chaired the Western Pennsylvania Black Assembly with Rev. Patrick, reminisced about the time Rev. Patrick went to Highland Park swimming pool to protest the segregation. “He went to Highland Park to integrate the segregated pool and jumped right in the pool. He couldn’t swim, but he put his body in the pool to break down Pittsburgh’s rules of segregation. That’s the kind of courage he had. He was a real hero.”
Reverend Patrick’s commitment to equality led him to chair and serve on many boards and committees. He chaired the Allegheny County Council on Civil Rights and the Allegheny County Committee for Fair Housing Practices, in the 1970s he was elected president of the Pittsburgh Public School Board, he was also the first Black minister to serve as moderator of the Pittsburgh Presbytery and a member of the Pittsburgh NAACP.
While Rev. Patrick made his influence through demonstrations and protests, Pultizer Prize winning playwright August Wilson, born Frederick August Kittel Jr., in the Hill District section of Pittsburgh, made his on stage. Through his works, Wilson, who died on Oct. 2, 2005 at the age of 60, gave others a deep, yet real look into the life, family and culture of Blacks in America.
Mark Clayton Southers, an award winning playwright, stage director and theatrical producer said, “His (Wilson’s) legacy is strong. Folks just don’t understand how significant he is as a playwright. He took the theater world by storm and his works will be around for 500 years, like that of Shakespeare, whose works are still being performed today. Different ages can appreciate him and his works will survive the test of time. He captured the African-American culture in a way that is real.”
Wilson, who changed his name in 1965, was born in the Hill District but later moved to Hazelwood after his mother re-married. He attended Central Catholic High School, Connelley Vocational High School and Gladstone High School, which he later dropped out from. While he had various jobs, he always had an appreciation of literature and the arts, and knew that he wanted to be a writer. In 1968,Wilson, along with Robert Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater in the Hill District, and began putting on his plays. He, along with two others, later started the Kuntu Writers Workshop to bring together African-American writers and assist them in production.
In 1978 Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he received a fellowship for The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and then more than 10 years later moved to Seattle where he worked with the Seattle Repertory Theater.
Wilson’s most notable works are featured in his “Century Cycle,” which are set in different decades and depicts the life of Blacks throughout the 20th century. They include “Gem of the Ocean,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Seven Guitars,” “Fences,” “Two Trains Running,” “Jitney,” “King Hedley II” and “Radio Golf.” He won Pulitzer Prizes for “The Piano Lesson” and “Fences.”
“August was always a part of the move that was birthed to fight for change. His works were a way of educating and mobilizing people. It wasn’t meant for entertainment it was intended into move people to action,” said Udin, Wilson’s childhood friend and theater collaborator. “His legacy is one of the most important artistic legacies that has come out of Pittsburgh and in the field of art, especially the theater, because of the impact it had on the theater. The popularity of his work is not only nationwide but also worldwide. He won two Pulitzer Prizes when most people spend their lives working to get close to one.”
In 2006, the August Wilson Center for African American cultured was opened in downtown Pittsburgh, followed by his childhood home being made a landmark.
While they may have made their marks in different ways, the legacies of these two men, like that of Dr. King, will forever remain in our hearts, our souls and our minds.
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