Remembering the Life and Times of David Dinkins
The next important meeting was the Jackson campaign for President of the United States of America. Across the country, there were reverberations of 'Run Jesse Run’. It seemed that everywhere I went, young and old, black and white, men and women, even little children were screaming ‘Run Jesse Run’ ‘Run Jesse Run’. Jesse called Al Vann and I. Al Vann was Assemblyman at the time and one of the most powerful elected officials in New York. He asked us if we would convene New York Black Leaders to help him decide if he should put his hat in the Presidential ring. September 1983, we convened the meeting at the House of the Lord Church. The church was packed. It seemed that every black leader in New York and some beyond was at the meeting.
After the usual speaking by various elected officials, Jackson spoke. He said, “If I’m going to run for the Presidency. I will need three things, the masses, the machinery, and the money. If y'all will help me get those things, I’m ready to go.” There was a thunderous response and we all joined in ‘Run Jesse Run’ ‘Run Jesse Run’, we will help, we will help. After the meeting, which was held downstairs in the fellowship hall. We went upstairs to the sanctuary and held the press conference.
Dinkins, who was the city clerk at the time, played a key role in helping to organize the meeting. In addition, he was a major Jackson supporter throughout the campaign. We could always count on him, and of course, there were others; Percy Sutton was one of the major New York supporters along with Basil Paterson, Carl McCall, etc. I left out Charlie Rangel; he was a surreptitious supporter. He said to me that he had given his word to Walter Mondale before Jackson decided to run and he couldn’t go back on his word. But he was prepared to do whatever he could to be helpful.
As the years went by there were many important meetings and conferences that Dinkins and I attended, participated in, and/or helped to organize. His concern and involvement were global. He was very much involved in the African Liberation Movement on the African continent. I would not say that he was a genuine Nationalist or authentic Pan-Africanist, but he was committed to the freedom struggles in other countries, in particular South Africa. Before the election, he participated in many forums, rallies, etc. regarding the Southern African liberation struggles.
In 1986, he spoke at the rally that we held for the incarcerated Nelson Mandela. The rally was held at the Dag-Hammarskjold Plaza across from the United Nations. From 1951-to 1963 Dag-Hammarskjold was secretary-general at the U.N. We called the rally One Thousand Men of African Ancestry celebrating the 86th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Whatever and wherever the issue was from the 60s until his death, David Dinkins was present or his representative.
Even more dramatic was Dave’s commitment to engage in disobedience. Congressman-Walt Fauntroy, Randall Robinson, and of Washington D.C., Effie Barry, the wife of Marion Barry (then D.C. Mayor), a sit-in at the Washington, D.C., South African Embassy. They were arrested and it started a movement of civil disobedience across the country from every station and status of life people were submitting themselves to arrest and Free South African- Free Nelson Mandela Movement. In New York, we coordinated civil disobedience. I asked Charles Barron if he would be responsible for the orderly arrests. I chaired the National Black United Front (NBUF) and he was my chief of staff. The first group to get arrested was Dave Dinkins, Percy Sutton, myself, and others. Significantly, Percy Sutton had members of his family get arrested with him. I also had my family, my wife, Dr. Karen, and my children, Leah, Sharon, Dawn, Herb Jr., Of course, given his campaign for Mayor, he and I were very close from the beginning. Equally, I was close to his campaign manager, Bill Lynch. Bill had been a part of our organizing in the community before he joined the Dinkins campaign. He became deeply involved with the unions. Hence all along the campaign trail from the beginning to the night of victory, our church and I were very much involved in his campaign. (See photos in the church office)
I was in the delegation that went to South Africa before Nelson Mandela was released from jail.
Earlier in the day, we were invited to Mama Tambo’s home for a reception in the evening. We learned that her husband, Oliver, was in the hospital and was too ill to attend. I suggested that we go to the hospital and pray for him on the way to the reception. Bill Lynch, who was Dinkins campaign manager and now, and at this time his Chief of Staff, and I went to the hospital. I prayed for Mr. Tambo, and as we say in our church, “I have a praise report.” That evening Oliver Tambo surprised everyone when he showed up for the festivities.
While on the campaign trail, one of the major meetings at a critical point in the campaign took place at my church. At that point, the campaign had not generated any excitement. It was imperative that we have a large enthusiastic audience. During the day we campaigned on a sound truck. We invited Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte to the rally in the evening. We were relieved and excited that there was an overflow enthusiastic crowd. Of course, I was there on the night of the victory celebration.
My reflections, however, also, focused on this very church. We had a major meeting with David Dinkins, Governor Mario Cuomo, Cardinal John O’Connor, and a host of VIPs. The meeting was precipitated by the tension in the city emanating from the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, a black youth killed by a white mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The city was on the verge of exploding. The reason for the meeting was to bring peace and unity to the city.
Additionally, there used to be a clergy group called the Committee of Denominational Executives (CODE) Bishop Paul Moore Jr., The Episcopal Archbishop of New York was the convener. We would meet periodically to address the issues primarily in New York, but our concerns compassed the world.
Strikingly, Bishop Moore and the CODE organization and meeting in Saint John Divine’s office were identical to the Council of Religious Leaders (CORL) and Cardinal Dolan, convener of the meeting at Cardinal Dolan’s residence and the reason for our convening the organization and meetings were almost identical except for names and places. Here we are, I pondered, in 2021 doing the same thing we did in 1990 addressing the same issues.
Another critical point in the campaign was a decision that had to be made whether David Dinkins running for the mayoral seat should visit the family of Yusuf Hawkins in the community. Because the tension was so high and Dinkins was not known, deep and pervasive in the Black community. There was concern about how he would be accepted. At least that part of the community where Yusuf Hawkins lived.
I was sitting in my church office when Bill Lynch, the campaign manager, called me and asked my opinion if Dinkins should visit Yusuf’s family in the community. I tried to put the question back to Bill. I asked him, “what did he think?” He said, “That's your call Reverend.” It was a heavy decision if Dinkins went to visit the family and was booed it would sink or damage his efforts. Fortunately in my office was Chris Griffith whose brother, Michael, had been chased to his death by whites in Howard Beach, Brooklyn. I turned to Chris and asked him what he thought. He said, “ when my brother was killed our family welcomed all the support that anyone could give us.” I called Bill Lynch back and said, “let’s go, let’s do it.” And he said, “All right. Dave will pick you up and take the two of you there.”
Shortly after, Dave Dinkins came by the church with his driver and security personnel. I sat in the car next to him as we headed to the home of the Hawkins family. He had on his marine jacket and cap and seemed very comfortable as we drove along. I must confess that I was very concerned and kept my mind positive and prayerful. When we reached the community the crowd was massive. When they heard that Dinkins had arrived a thunderous cheer reverberated across the community. I had no words to say how relieved I was. We emerged from the car and the yelling was even louder with added handclaps. Dinkins went upstairs and met with the family including the mother and father. I stayed for a while and I was dropped off at the church. Mr. Dinkins was excited and pleased and I was relieved and grateful.
As I remembered his last years, I recall a celebration that was held for him at Gracie Mansion. There had been such a conspicuous change in his body size, then, when I had seen him shortly before. I was so startled and saddened I went looking for his son/daughter or member of the family to express my concern. I felt guilty because this was a celebration and I was bringing bad news to the occasion. But I felt driven to do so. I knew he was in bad health that would result in his death in a few years at most.
To be continued…