Win­ston John­son

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

I met her on April 5, 1968—the day af­ter [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] as­sas­si­na­tion. I worked for Eastern Air­lines and I drove a car at that time for VIPs. I was in the Eastern Club—their first class lounge back then— with Eu­gene Mc­Carthy’s wife.

I men­tioned to her that this plane bear­ing Dr. King’s body and Mrs. King was com­ing in and the mayor and oth­ers would be out there to meet it. She said they were good friends and that she’d love to go over to the air­craft. So I drove her to the plane and when Mrs. King came down the stairs, they em­braced and then she in­tro­duced me to Mrs. King. And Mrs. King asked if [Abi­gail Mc­Carthy] could come to the house. So I drove her over to the house and in fact, we got there be­fore Mrs. King did. Harry Be­la­fonte an­swered the door so we were im­pressed with that. We were there for maybe an hour and then I took her back to the air­port.

Af­ter that, Mrs. King started trav­el­ing a lot and rais­ing money to build the King Cen­ter. So we got to be very good friends over many years af­ter that. She trav­eled fre­quently. I was called a cus­tomer ser­vice rep by then and I han­dled VIPs and celebri­ties so

Au­gust 19, 2016

I saw her fre­quently. She was usu­ally trav­el­ing coach and I would usu­ally put her in first class [laughs].

And go­ing back to that day meet­ing her the day af­ter her hus­band’s as­sas­si­na­tion, what was her de­meanor like?

The de­meanor that I saw was what I saw for the next 25 years with her. She was very com­posed and very gra­cious to the peo­ple that she met. I was amazed that she could be that com­posed con­sid­er­ing what had hap­pened.

And when did you come out to her?

Well that took awhile [laughs]. Leon and I were very clos­eted. I had al­most lost my job in 1969 [over be­ing gay]. So we stayed in our closet and when the Pride marches and stuff started in the early ’70s, we were so into our be­ing clos­eted that I just never thought about talk­ing with Mrs. King about it— un­til Bow­ers-Hard­wick in 1986 [the U.S. Supreme Court case that up­held Ge­or­gia’s sodomy law].

We had be­come very close to her. So I called her in 1986 and I said, “There’s some- Win­ston John­son, 75, and his late part­ner Leon Allen are name­sakes for the At­lanta HRC Din­ner’s an­nual Com­mu­nity Lead­er­ship award. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

When did you first meet Coretta Scott King? —Win­ston John­son on com­ing out to Coretta Scott King

thing we should have talked about years ago. Leon and I are a cou­ple. We’ve been to­gether since 1964.” I men­tioned Bow­ers-Hard­wick and she was very aware of it and she knew it was hor­ri­ble. She said Martin would have hated it and would prob­a­bly have al­ready been out there for us.

And I said, “Well we wanted you to know be­cause we love you and we know you love us” but I also told her I wanted her to do some­thing im­por­tant. We’d got­ten in­volved with HRC [Hu­man Rights Cam­paign] a cou­ple of years be­fore. We went to New York to the HRC din­ner in 1985 and we didn’t know gay peo­ple did any­thing like that. So I told her about that and said it’s for gay rights and she said “Well, tell me where and I’ll be there.” And she was there in Septem­ber of that year, that was in 1986.

And she just re­ally spoke out for the rest of her life and she al­ways said Martin prob­a­bly would have been with us be­cause of [gay civil rights ac­tivist] Ba­yard Rustin, who helped or­ga­nize the March On Wash­ing­ton.

I’m cu­ri­ous, did she ever have ques­tions about the LGBT com­mu­nity or things you had to clear up, or did she just get it?

She just got it. I think she got it be­cause of their ex­pe­ri­ence with Ba­yard, be­cause you know Ba­yard Rustin was 10 or 15 years older than Martin so he was gay and he was kind of an icon to she and Martin. They knew he was gay and what a good per­son he was so I think she just sort of got it.

She would send me a birth­day card ev­ery year and she would al­ways in­clude Leon in notes that she sent. And I’ve got the one where I know she was telling me good­bye. I knew she was sick, I just didn’t re­al­ize it was that se­ri­ous. She talked about that she knew Leon and I were hav­ing a rough time be­cause of his Parkin­son’s and that she was hav­ing health is­sues too. I went back af­ter she died and I re­al­ized that was good­bye in that card.

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