PLATTSBURGH — Mountain Lake PBS will broadcast the 2022 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at 2 p.m., Monday, January 17.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee partnered with Mountain Lake PBS last year to present its first virtual offering with a repeat this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The annual celebration honors the Jan. 15, 1929, birth of the assassinated Baptist minister and his civil rights legacy that still inspires people around the world.

IN THE BEGINNING

In the late 1980s, representatives from Plattsburgh State University, City Hall, Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Clinton County and the Plattsburgh religious community comprised a 13-member board that was appointed by Plattsburgh Mayor Carlton Rennell to plan the annual celebration.

The first community celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King holiday was on Jan. 15, 1989, at the Newman Center on Broad Street and featured a program of speakers and singers.

East Beekmantown resident Jacqueline “Jackie” Creed Archer is considered the founder of the event, and she recruited a Who’s Who of Plattsburgh finest to be part of fulfilling King’s dream and global vision of a “Beloved Community.”

FRANK JACKSON JR.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. (retired) Frank Jackson Sr. separated from the military here on June 1, 1979.

He spent five years in Saudi Arabia before returning to Plattsburgh, graduating from Plattsburgh State University in 1988, and spending 20 years as an educator, the first two years at BOCES and the remainder at AuSable Valley Central School.

Jackson recalls he went to the second King celebration in 1989.

“After being there that Monday, I just decided I needed to be a part of that,” he said.

“So I sought out Jackie Archie about when their next meeting was and went to that next meeting. From then until 2005, I was there.”

Despite a small amount of funding from the state Martin Luther King Commission, the majority of the organization’s funding came from attendees’ donations at the annual celebration.

“We weren’t doing a lot with funding,” Jackson said.

“We hadn’t started a scholarship program back then. The money was just sitting in the bank. As a matter of fact, I became the treasurer at my second meeting. Then, it went from being the treasurer to several years down the road, becoming the president. I think I maintained that position for probably a good seven or eight years.”

Archer initiated an outreach to inmates locally.

“That’s when we began volunteering and attending the different state prisons at which we did every Saturday for years,” Jackson said.

“It was Jackie Archer, myself and Monte Prather. We were on the road to prisons. I think we’ve been in every state prison in the 50 mile radius of here, and including the federal prison that we made a couple of trips to.”

The goal was to show the inmates, predominantly African-American, ways to improve themselves upon release.

“We did that for a long, long time,” he said.

“We did that even after Jackie passed, we continued that program.”

Prather and Jackson recruited other people including U.S. Air Force personnel.

At one Saturday visit to Franklin Correctional Facility, they were accompanied by several female Air Force service members.

“That went very well because they were able to relate to these guys,” Jackson said.

“We tried to educate as much as possible. That was our primary goal. At the same time, we implemented a program where we would go to the different schools.”

The commission started selling the Blackfacts calendar to fund its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Program.

“That became a money maker for us where we could, then, pay for the scholarships,” he said.

“We went from one, and I think there was one year, we had at least three different $500 scholarships. Our present mayor was awarded one of those scholarships.”

CHRIS ROSENQUEST

In 1993, Mayor Chris Rosenquest was a senior at Plattsburgh High School.

“Part of the MLK group then,” he said.

“I think they still do it now, they do a scholarship. I don’t remember how much it was. I want to say, like, it was $500 at the time. We wrote an essay. I wish I had it. Having been a recipient, having been part of that tradition, is really a point of pride, still is a point of pride, for me. When I go to these MLK remembrances and celebrations, I do always think back of the time I participated as a youth and was awarded this award. Just to be able to contribute to my community in this capacity, it’s just a great honor for me.”

STAN RANSOM

Plattsburgh resident and retired C-E-F Library System director Stan Ransom met Jackie Archer very early on.

“She was very gracious,” he said.

“Of course, she was the person who started the celebration for Martin Luther King. We all were really pleased she was able to continue to push for recognition for this day. We all tried to do our best to accommodate her and get her reaction to things. She was a marvelous woman. We were very honored to have her and to follow her direction in trying to get things going for Martin Luther King Day.”

Ransom is the longtime secretary, who is eager to vacate his position.

“Nobody else wants to be secretary,” he said.

“I always think if you’re secretary you know what is going on, and you can help if there’s a problem because you’re in the middle.”

After a decade, Ransom resigned from the position and was recognized for his tenure.

“(Assemblyman) Billy Jones gave me a citation from the New York State Assembly to honor my 10 years of services for the Martin Luther King Committee. Guess what? Nobody else wanted it, so I’m still the secretary of the Martin Luther King Committee. It didn’t work.”

KEN & PHYLLIS PALM

Dr. Kenneth Palm was the Dannemora Correctional Facility dentist before he opened his own practice, Colchester Dental Group, in Vermont.

Phyllis Palm was the director of the Child Development Center at Clinton Community College.

“We were in Plattsburgh when Jackie organized the commission,” Ken said.

“Jackie did a lot of the work just over the phone. She did the research, and there was a State Commission. She reached out to us or she had Frank or someone else reach out to us and invite us to one of the meetings.”

The commission first met at City Hall in Mayor Rennell’s office.

“Once we attended, she invited us to become members of the commission and we did. It had to be like 1991 or 1992. It was really the only organization that promoted and dealt with issues of concern to the Black residents in Plattsburgh, aside from some organizations on the Air Force Base.

“Jackie was really just focused on equity, civil rights, and things like that. Jackie was focused, almost singularly focused, on having that commission be represented in Plattsburgh and in Clinton County. I was just impressed with her single mindedness. She was just so determined and was not going to let anyone prevent her from celebrating the achievements of Dr. King or of Black people.”

Ken served as a chair and was later a keynote speaker.

During his tenure, Ken focused on crafting the committee’s constitution and by-laws.

Phyllis concentrated on behind-the-scenes organizing, but she sat under WCFE-TV’s studio lights as a contestant for the committee’s Black History Bowl.

Quizmaster Frank Jackson Sr. posed questions to them and teammates Monte Prather and Keith Smith, who was victorious over Twanda McFodden, Geraldine Thomas, Nicole Brown and Kimberly Hall, members of Sigma Pi Theta sorority at SUNY Plattsburgh at the first bowl held on Feb. 16, 1992.

“We had some of the professionals in the community,” Phyllis said.

“We won trophies, who could answer the most questions. It was a lot of fun. There were like four teams. We made it kind of competitive and fun and got the students involved. But we always seemed to win. We had a good team.”

“This generation, so many people don’t know what we’ve done before them to help prepare this space for them so they would have a space that was welcoming to them,” Ken said.

Past committee members included artist S. Booker, Sara Richman, Mary Hopkins and Ella Harrell.

The Palms hosted a number of events at their Plattsburgh homes on Trafalgar and Ianelli in the city.

“I did try and do things with the younger kids for Christmas to give them a chance to meet the other people of color in the community,” Phyllis said.

“Every Christmas, we would invite all the kids over and let them interact and let them know who else was out there. They really seem to enjoy that. We really had good refreshments, and it was just a good time, just a fun time to know who else was there like them.”

MONTE PRATHER

U.S. Air Force Captain (retired) Monte Prather and his wife, Jacqueline “Jackie” Prather and their children arrived at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in June 1989.

“My first experience with MLK was the 1990 celebration,” he said.

“To tell you the truth, I can remember it like it was yesterday. What happened was I was the chief of Social Actions. Jackie and the committee sent an invitation to the Wing Commander to come. Eventually, it got down to me. I think it was through the Wing Commander, who was Col. (Paul) Malandrino at the time. Then, it went to the Base Commander, who was Col. Joseph at the time. Then, it went to my boss and then it got down to me.”

Prather attended with Senior Master Sgt. Ellis Spann. The guest speaker was the Rev. Rodney Patterson, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Vermont and pastor of the New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church in Burlington.

“I was in uniform,” Prather said.

After it was over, Jackie Archer and Frank Jackson came up to me and invited me to come to their meetings.

And, I never let go.”

Prather remained on the committee until 2004.

“I was chair for about three years in the early ‘90s, about 1991 until about 1995,” he said.

Prather recalls offering summer educational classes for local students on the third floor of the Plattsburgh Public Library.

“Stan Ransom, who was part of the committee, he would let us do classes upstairs in the library during the summer,” he said.

“We would do basic Black history classes during the summer.”

Archer was a driving force behind the classes.

The purpose of the sessions is “to teach our children the value their ancestors have had and to help them develop a sense of pride,” she stated in a Press-Republican article published on August 23, 1992.

“With Jackie’s leadership, during the month of February, we would go into local schools in the area and we would do presentations during Black History Month,” Prather said.

Others who helped raise the awareness of Black history and foster Black agency in Clinton County included Janet Saunders, who was the director of the Affirmative Action Program at Plattsburgh State.

Prather and Jackson also participated in Umoja (Unity) Nia (Purpose), a diversity club at PAFB that interfaced with the MLK Committee and the then-local chapter of the NAACP.

“As a matter of fact, all three organizations, we held the first Juneteenth celebration either in 1993 or 1994,” Prather said.

“It wasn’t Penfield at the time. I forgot what the name of the park was. Marlene Fields was there. The (Plattsburgh State) Gospel Choir sang there. That was under the direction of Marlene at the time. The children put on a couple of skits. We had some brief speeches. We had a basketball tournament. There was a barbecue.”

Prather finds it remarkable that the MLK Committee still exists.

“That would be a tribute to Jackie Archer,” he said.

“I think the lasting legacy is the committee still continues to hold the celebration for Martin Luther King and keep the ideas that he espoused throughout his lifetime. It keeps him alive.”

MAXINE PERRY

Maxine Perry got involved in Umoja Nia and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee when she and her husband, Percy L. Perry Jr., were stationed at PAFB in 1979.

“Jackie, she was one of our speakers for Black History Month,” Maxine said.

Maxine is among the committee’s roster of chairs that include Vivian Papson, Dr. David Stone, Brett Carpenter, and Dr. Holly Heller-Ross. The present chair is Lakita Washington.

“The legacy of this committee is educating people of the nonviolent movement of Dr. King,” Maxine said.

“We would like to get the young people involved, and we continue to provide scholarships for the area students.

“Jackie was very passionate about the legacy of Dr. King and keeping it alive.”

CATHERINE TALLON

Jackie Archer and Catherine Tallon were neighbors on the Ashley Road in East Beekmantown.

“I used to work on Tuesday nights when they had the meetings,” Tallon said.

“Then when I got off that, I was on the committee. How I first met Jackie, she worked at the Mental Health Clinic. Social Services is on Margaret Street, and the Mental Health Clinic at that time was upstairs on the second floor.

“We just became friends. She invited me to be part of the committee. Jackie was wonderful. Whenever she would meet somebody in the community and she thought could contribute something, she would reach out to them with a phone call, with a letter. She was a person that united this community in so many ways.”

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter:@RobinCaudell

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