BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. (CBS) — When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech in front of thousands in Washington, D.C., Norval Reece, a young civil rights activist from Philadelphia, stood in a huge crowd of strangers. Their common goal was equality.
“I mean, everyone was just riveted. It was the first time I ever heard him speak and he was just masterful,” Reece told Eyewitness News.
Reece is 84 and he’s been living in Bucks County for decades. He invited us into his home to share memories of a man he misses to this day.
“This country is badly in need of his voice right now,” Reece said.
Reece was so inspired by King, he chartered a plane from Philadelphia to join the civil rights leader on his third march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. It’s where Reece says he encountered what he calls a vicious crowd watching, screaming, even throwing things at those marching.
“People were very nasty on the sidelines. I’d never heard so many vulgarities yelled at people just walking by,” he said.
Reece is a proud Quaker and believes it’s his Quaker roots that sent him to Dr. King’s side.
“I was raised to believe all people are equal, are born equal, created equal,” he said.
Reece met King in 1967 at the old Robert Morris Hotel in Philadelphia. He spent several hours with the civil rights icon.
“In person he was very direct. He was kind of all business in a way. My impression was that he was all business. Very focused. You knew where he stood. A good strategic thinker,” Reece said.
Reece says that night he, King and a few others planned a poverty march for the following spring, but King never made it. He was dead before the march took place. Reece went to King’s funeral in Atlanta. Fifty years to the day king died, and Reece is proud of leaving his life up north to march down south for what was is right in all directions.
“I did, and I would do it again,” Reece said emphatically.