MONROE — For some people, meeting a celebrity who they admire is a pinnacle in their life. For others, it could be hearing their favorite band live.
Dr. Cleveland Huntley, at 18 years old, took a trip to Washington D.C. to hear a speech given by someone he admired and respected — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Huntley, now a licensed minister, listened to the words of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech directly from King on Aug. 28, 1963 near the Lincoln Memorial in close proximity to King. It was part of the March on Washington.
He said it was one of the highlights of his life.
He described the number of the people in the crowd as “mind boggling.” There were an estimated 250,000 people.
With that many people, speakers were arranged around the Reflection pool so everyone could clearly hear King’s words.
“Dr. King was so mesmerizing,” Huntley said. “He had a way of raising consciousness for America to turn.”
Huntley said there was a Freedom House on Brown Street in Monroe where Freedom Riders stayed and kept their bus in 1963. They invited people from Monroe to go to the March.
“I hopped on the bus,” Huntley said.
At that time, Huntley points out, Monroe was still segregated. The black neighborhoods included: New Town, Quality Hill, Benton Heights and Seven Hills. Huntley grew up on Plyler Street. His family moved to Monroe when he was in the fifth grade.
“We were family in the general sense that we had a lot of decency and we had a lot of other lifestyles in common,” Huntley said.
Huntley attended the former Winchester School. He said the school counted on hand-me-downs like used books, band uniforms and football equipment from Monroe High School and other schools.
Students who would have to cross town to get to school had to walk across five or six railroad tracks, Huntley recalled. It amazes him that there were no fatal accidents that he could remember.
Too, he can remember many of the women in his neighborhood working in domestic service in the homes of wealthy people. The women would be picked up in a car owned by the wealthy people and driven to the home. They had to sit in the back of the car.
Huntley shared that even though blacks would cook in restaurants, black customers had to go to the back of restaurants to get their meals in paper bags, because they were not allowed to sit inside.