A prominent Chicago businessman who was also a personal driver for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says the late civil rights leader would "hang his head in shame" at the current state of black America.
Spencer Leak, Sr. says he's proud to have been the chauffeur for Dr. King — who 50 years ago led the March on Washington — during his Chicago visit. But if King were alive today, Leak says he would wonder was his life and death in vain.
Leak insists that black Americans have regressed. A longtime owner of Leak and Sons Funeral Homes, Leak noted that he performed 105 of the city's 106 homicides last year — victims who were overwhelming black. King, he says, would be hanging his head in shame over the black-on-black crime, especially considering that he put his life, literally, on the line for their equality and freedom. King was assassinated in 1968.
It was 50 years ago that King captivated the nation on Aug, 28, 1963 with his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The 50th anniversary of the march was last week.
"As far of the social engineering of our people, it has been a train wreck," Leak said, adding that he did not attend the March on Washington 50 in '63. "We as a people have regressed since the summer of 1963."
Leak first met King during his first trip to the North. The "Northern Strategy" had targeted Chicago, which King would later describe as "the most segregated city in the nation, including Atlanta and Montgomery."
Leak's father was among the city's black leaders — including then-Chicago Urban League chairman Edwin "Bill" Berry — who invited King to Chicago.
"My dad and Edwin were good friends, along with Al Raby and a group of ministers, extended an invitation to Dr. King to come to Chicago," Leak recalled. "That was the beginning of the Northern trek via Chicago by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was a new organization Dr. King had established."
When Berry asked if the family could provide a limousine for King, Leak recalls that he begged his father for permission to chauffeur King himself.
"That was the greatest thrill of my life," Leak said, noting that he drove the reverend throughout Chicago. "I found him to be a very warm and hospitable man. While he was very articulate, he could be one of the regular guys, always joking and who had a very hearty laugh…a guy's guy; someone who could tell jokes."
Leak said King's entourage would be preceded by a police car in the front and back, complete with sirens.
"I took Dr. King to the two Soldier's Field protests…I took him to Stone Temple B.C. at 3600 W. Douglas and Tabernacle Baptist Church at 41st and Indiana, where he spoke to a standing-room only crowd," Leak said. "In addition to my job of being Dr. King's chauffeur, I was also his gofer. I was to sell Dr. King's book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. Whenever he needed a new shirt, or got his shoes shined, that was my job
"I was very proud that I had been allowed to do this because, at that time, we knew the greatness in the future he would exemplify," Leak said.
Leak said it was right to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march, however, "When I look back to what was happening back in Chicago and America 50 years ago, I have not seen any progress emanating from the March on Washington, other than the legislation that came as a result of the march, which was the Voter Rights bill and the public accommodation's bill.
Leak added: "If you look at the stats, we had more children born to two-member families in 1963 than we have now. The unemployment rate for blacks in America was around 6.3. It is now 12-whatever for black teenagers and 30-percent dropout rate in our schools."
Leak said the dropout rate was far less then than today.
"We are the spirit of the march," he noted of the 1963 effort. "The spirit of the speech was that Dr. King was trying to echo the words of Abraham Lincoln, even though he didn't say it. He was saying that we must become a nation united so that we will not be divided against ourselves and fall into the same set of circumstances that created the Civil War 100 years before."