In attached photograph, as D’Army Bailey speaks, Rev. Ralph Abernathy greets Lt. Governor John Wilder at the groundbreaking for the National Civil Rights Museum, while State Representative Alvin King, and legendary WDIA Radio broadcaster A.C. “Moohah” Williams, look on.
*FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*
Statement Of D’Army Bailey, Attorney And Founder, The National Civil Rights Museum, On The Death Of Lt. Governor John Wilder
January 1, 2010
In the passing of Lt. Governor John Wilder we have lost a spiritual man, statesman, humanitarian and friend to the common people. As Founder of the National Civil Rights Museum, a State recognition for me which Wilder spearheaded, and the Museum’s President Emeritus, I speak in those capacities to thank him and to say that without him there would be no National Civil Rights Museum. The first meeting for state support was held in the Lieutenant Governor’s conference room in Nashville. Our non- profit Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation had bought the Lorraine at foreclosure auction in 1982 but were rebuffed by County Mayor Bill Morris and City Mayor Dick Hackett in our requests for nine million dollars to build the museum. The Administration of then Governor Lamar Alexander also turned a deaf ear to our plea. Our final hope came through the leadership of Wilder, and House Speaker Ned McWhorter, with united backing from Shelby County’s black delegation and most of the whites. Four and a half million dollars, half of what we needed, was added to the state budget and the Bill passed both Houses of the legislature. I sat in the Senate gallery as Wilder presided on the day of the final vote and looked at the agenda of a Republican staffer where a handwritten notation had been made to her sheet: “ This Bill is going to pass anyway so vote your conscience.” The Senate vote was 33 -0.
Following this Wilder and McWhorter came to Memphis to help host a meeting at the Peabody which then persuaded Mayors Morris and Hackett to support the city and county jointly funding the other four and a half million. Even so, neither the city nor county wanted to build and own the museum. So the state took ownership. But getting the appropriation was just the beginning. In the ensuing years there were numerous meetings in Nashville with state officials to approve and carry out plans for building the museum. These plans always came before the State Building Commission which Wilder Chaired. I would enter the meetings and sit on the front row. Recognizing me, Wilder would call our item to the top of the agenda and each submission would quickly pass with encouraging words from Wilder.
Wilder was gracious in attending the Groundbreaking for the Museum and was especially pleased that day to meet and chat with civil rights leader Rev. Ralph Abernathy. They bonded quickly and Wilder invited Abernathy to fish on his lake when he was back in town. Perhaps the empathy was grounded in part from Wilder’s reputation as one of the few Haywood county landowners who did not seek to penalize blacks for civil rights boycotts in the early sixties.
When I invited Wilder as an honored guest for the Museum’s Grand Opening July 4, 1991 he wrote a note of regrets; “I am sorry I will not be with you for the Museum Opening. While one has to be there to conceive the baby you don’t have to be there when it comes.”
Former Lt. Gov. John Wilder Dies At Age 88
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