During a low-key event at the AME Zion Church on Ellison Street, three men recalled Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 27th, 1968 visit to city.
“I invited Martin Luther King to Paterson,” said Russell Graddy, the owner of Mr G’s restaurant, who escaped from the segregated south, and found freedom in the city. In 1968, King responded to Graddy’s invitation by arranging a visit to a city church: Community Baptist Church of Love on Auburn Street.
During the visit there were already rumors and warnings foreseeing the assignation of the civilian rights leader, so in order to provide him security, the city’s police department appointed two bodyguards. “Our intelligence had told us, he’d be killed,” said Benjamin Leak (featured in video), one of the two men who were tasked to protect King during his visit.
From the time King came to Newark on his way to the city, his disciples had to ensure his security. Graddy recalls using three vehicles to transport the civil rights leader to fend off any possible attempt on his life. Inside one vehicle was King and the other two, one leading and the other following, ensured safety until he arrived in the city.
Once inside city limits his security detail provided by police escorted him to his destination. As he passed through Auburn Street, now Freedom Boulevard – named in his honor – thousands of people over crowded the street to catch a glimpse. This made providing security much more difficult.
“I was a police detective at the Paterson police,” recalled Charles Cincil, the other guard assigned to protect the civil rights leader. “We had to lead him through the crowd.” Cincil said King’s visit had a major impact on his life, it convinced him to pursue his education, eventually obtaining a higher education degree.
Graddy recounted his reason for inviting King. He said the city was reeling with racism and it had major problems. “We still had a lot of segregated places,” said Graddy. “We couldn’t move to the eastside.”