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Boston Celtics great Bill Russell on Wednesday spoke to the crowd on the Mall, 50 years after he turned down a chance to speak at the original March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
“Fifty years ago, the night before the march, I met Dr. King … one of the great experiences of my life,” Russell told people gathered on the Mall.
“He invited me to be up here, and I respectfully declined because the organizers had worked for years to get this together, and I hadn’t done anything.”
Like many others before him, Russell said the fight for civil rights that King led is not over.
“From my point of view, you only register progress by how far you have to go,” he said. “I’m here to join you and to implore you: The fight has just begun.
“We can never accept the status quo until the word ‘progress’ is taken out of my vocabulary.”
At 80 years old, no one would blame Bill Russell if he politely declined public appearances. Not Russ. The guy keeps chugging along, working with the fight for civil rights.
Just how influential was Bill Russell back in the day? Check out this story:
Following Boston’s fifth consecutive NBA title and his own third-straight MVP honor, Russell found himself in a fit of rage — Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway while getting out of his car on the evening of June 12, 1963. Russell quickly sprung into action.
“Get down here,” Charles Evers, Medgar’s older brother, said to Boston’s superstar. “And we’ll open one of the playgrounds and we’ll have the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi.” Russell did. With the Ku Klux Klan (including Evers’ killer, Byron De La Beckwith) following his every step, and with Charles barely sleeping while holding a rifle at Russell’s motel door for protection, Russell followed through on his promise.
Just remarkable. Nowadays, we applaud athletes when they wear hoodies or write messages on their sneakers. That’s a far cry from risking your life to open an integrated basketball camp in the deep south.
Here’s the video of Russell’s speech from yesterday:
The rest of the links:
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