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Passing of A Giant of the Human Spirit- Senator William Perkins

Sunrise April 18, 1949 - Sunset May 16, 2023


I attended the funeral of the Honorable Senator William” Bill” Perkins on Thursday May 25, 2023, held at the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem where the Rev. Michael A. Waldron Jr. is the Senior Pastor. The Eulogist was Rev Henry A. Bedin III, Pastor of the First AME Bethel Church in Harlem, NY.

It was a lengthy funeral with an array of who's who in New York in attendance, including Mayor, Eric Adams, elected officials, clergy, community activists, Former Ambassador Gaspard, former Borough President of Manhattan, Virginia Fields, Senator Cordell Cleare of Harlem, Hazel Dukes, president of NAACP NYS Conference, and of course family members and friends. Former Congressman Charles Rangel was also present.


It's hard to remember when I first met Senator Perkins. It seemed that we had known each other for years. He was always on the scene whenever there was an issue concerning our people, particularly his people in Harlem. He served as a legislator of Harlem where he served 24 years, he was ubiquitous, tireless, courageous, committed - a fearless fighter for the people. He exemplified the quote- “he spoke truth to power”.


It seemed that he was always out front on issues that other people were reluctant to get involved in. He dared to go and do while others were turning away in fear and compromise.


He was recognized by the Nation Magazine as one of the eight most effective, progressive city leaders in the country. Senator Perkins was one of the few leaders who stood with the Central Park 5 -and against Donald Trump’s callous call for the death penalty for them. They were ultimately found innocent, and they are now known as the Exonerated 5.


He was the first New York State elected official to support former President Barack Obama.He obeyed what Congressman John Lewis said his father advised him, for all of us- “to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

When he was in the City Council, he led the fight to protect children from the deadly effects of lead in their homes. His leadership resulted in the enactment of the Childhood Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act of 2004. He introduced and passed resolutions opposing the involvement in the Iraq war. Early on he led the crusade against the pervasive rats in New York City streets.


As I mentioned, it seemed Senator Perkins was everywhere in Harlem and beyond. It was said of him, he was always in the community. He was a jogger and a walker. He rode the buses and subways. He stayed in touch with the people he served. He attended tenant and community meetings, senior citizen centers, rallies and demonstrations.


In 1991, when Rev. Sharpton, Councilman Charles Barron, and I called for a citywide disobedience campaign because of the killing of Amadou Diallo, over 1000 people came forward to be arrested including top elected officials like the Honorable Dave Dinkins, and the Honorable Charlie Rangel. People came from every walk of life, every nationality, and every age to get arrested. Bill Perkins was one of the first to step forward. It was an historic movement in reaction to a police officers killing. Rev. Sharpton and I were returning from a rally in Albany NY, against the harsh Rockefeller laws against substance abuse. I suggested to Rev. Sharpton that the people were so angry regarding the Amadou Diallo killing that some dramatic action had to be taken. They were furious about the way he had been killed. It was in the vestibule of his home where four (4) police Officers opened fire-50 times. They claimed he was reaching for his keys and the officers thought he had a weapon.


As the chairman of the National Black United Front, I had the responsibility of coordinating the New York Jail going/ civil disobedience campaign to free Nelson Mandela and free South Africa. Three (3)  leaders were arrested in Washington DC at the South African embassy, Congressman Fauntroy, Randall Robinson of trans Africa and Berry. Their act precipitated a nationwide civil disobedience campaign. I learned from that experience. When people become so enraged and prepared to take almost any action short of violence. Civil disobedience is the most radical action that can be taken short of violence.


As I stated Senator bill Perkins was one of the first to step forward.He was always serious with a no-nonsense demeanor. He had a commanding presence. You knew he was in the room. I admired him very much. There was no doubt in my mind that he was loyal, tough, audacious and totally committed to the people he represented. There was no doubt in my mind that in the battle we fought he would fight to the end.


We all agreed that we will miss him very much. For the people in Harlem, they will not see him walking the streets anymore. But when I think of Bill I think of the Marcus Garvey, “look for me in the whirlwind.”

Bill will always be with us, and we will look for him in every battle we fight for the people.


So, we say, so long brother, friend, comrade, freedom fighter. You fought a good fight; you finished the course, and you kept the faith. There is laid up for you a special commendation by the Supreme Creator who will say to you, well done thou good and faithful servant.

 

 

 

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