Local Civil Rights Activist Looks Back - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Local Civil Rights Activist Looks Back

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Monday people across the country honored Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. For one local man, the holiday is not only a day of remembrance for the civil rights leader, but also a day of reflection. Dr. Tom Carpenter is the Director of Education at St. Ambrose University and also a guest preacher at the AME Church in Davenport.

He is an ordinary man with an extraordinary story of courage and conviction. Carpenter grew up in New York City in the fifties and sixties, and from an early age he knew he wanted to help end discrimination and fight for equality.

"The summer I was 13 I hitch hiked down south to North Carolina and I was picketing the school board," said Dr. Carpenter.

Carpenter says even though he was beat up nearly everyday that summer, the experience helped fuel the fire inside him and was the start of a lifelong commitment to fighting for equality.

"These were terrible times and terrible things happened to African Americans, but I never lost sight that each of us has a personal responsibility to see what's wrong and try to fix it."

 Even his wedding day to his first wife, who later passed away, was put on hold for the cause.

"We had planned for some time to get married on August 28th 1963 and when it was announced there would be this massive gathering in Washington D.C., I said well we are going to have to postpone our wedding."

 Dr. King was at that gathering at the Lincoln Memorial and it's a moment Carpenter says he'll never forget.

"Not all speakers are magnetic and captivating and they were kind of dragging on and going on and on, and on until Dr. King got up to speak and he just galvanized everybody, you could hear a pin drop nobody was moving, we just all stopped and just listened."

Carpenter says it was one of many events he took part in. From the March on Selma to protests turned violent on the streets of New York City, he was there.

"There's a picture of me holding a bloody woman on the front page of the daily news in 1968 from those demos."

He says while it wasn't easy, the experiences he had and the people he met showed him just how powerful a person can be.

 "It takes all of us to come together and support the kinds of things that will make a difference."