PLATTSBURGH — Martin Luther King Jr. raised Peter Slocum’s awareness of socio-political issues.
“... of reality in the country to large parts of the population, including myself, and also the awareness that individual and community action can make an enormous difference,” the Keene man said.
“That gave me a different sense of political power and the importance of citizen activism.”
The former anti-war protester, journalist and community activist is the keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission’s annual celebration to honor the iconic civil-rights leader on today.
The event, at 1:30 p.m., features speakers and live music at the Blessed John XXIII Newman Center, 90 Broad St., Plattsburgh.
Born in Troy, Slocum grew up in the Albany area, he said, “in a very liberal, democratic household.
“But I was not sort of aware of community-protest activities when I was a kid.”
In college in the mid 1960s, though, he became involved in anti-war demonstrations.
“I was clearly inspired by the civil-rights movement,” he said.
“I was involved in the first significant anti-war protest march in Washington in 1965. I was certainly inspired by the March on Washington.”
Fearful he would get drafted into the Vietnam War, however, Slocum enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Wurzburg in Germany, located between Frankfurt and Nuremberg.
“I was an infantryman for a while,” he said. “Then, I became a clerk in a division headquarters. We were guarding from possible Soviet invasion.”
He longed to work for the U.S. Army’s Stars & Stripes newspaper but ended up a clerk typist.
“I had to wait until I was out of the army to become a newspaper man,” he said.
From 1971 to 1982, Slocum worked for the Washington Park Spirit, a community newspaper in Albany. Subsequently, he worked for the Troy Record, Associated Press and then the New York Daily News.
“The civil-rights scene in Albany, it was, I say, less active than a lot of northern cities like Rochester and Buffalo and certainly Newark and places that were more engaged,” he said.
“In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, there was a very active group called the Brothers working on basically community building and advocacy for better housing, better jobs and less discriminatory actions by the police.
“I wasn’t part of that. I was gone for a lot of the time.”
But the group’s community-action and social-justice campaign did affect him.
“When I got back from the Army and tried to become a newspaper reporter, I got involved in an underground weekly newspaper in Albany, not directly connected with the black community, but it was involved in a lot of the social-justice campaigns in that area,” he said.
“We focused on things like police misconduct and brutality and vote rigging by the Democratic machine, which was a very powerful, Chicago-boss-type machine in those days.”
Now retired, Slocum is a volunteer and board vice president for the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, where he works on programs and publicity.
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IF YOU GO
WHAT: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration featuring speakers and live music. Keynote speaker Peter Slocum.
WHEN: 1:30 pm. today.
WHERE: Blessed John XXIIINewman Center, 90 Broad St., Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: Free.