By: She’s Social (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As a veteran of the Korean War and an iconic Civil Rights leader who got his start in the 60s, you might expect Rev. H. K. Matthews to have a tight grip on his emotions at all times. However, Rev. Matthews demonstrated that even icons can have a moment when they are simply overcome with emotion. This moment of emotional overload occurred during the dedication of the new H.K. Matthews Drive in Brewton, AL.
On Wednesday, December 21st, the rain stopped and the sun reappeared as people from Pensacola and surrounding areas joined Brewtonians to celebrate the 88-year-old icon as he was awarded a key to the city of Brewton and a pin from the city council, during the unveiling ceremony of H. K. Matthews Drive.
How fitting that Matthews street is a “Drive”. The drive is an excellent word to use when describing a man who has been fighting for justice all of his life. He’s a man who was arrested over thirty times and continued to fight. He’s a man who was sent to prison twice and continued to fight. He’s a man who stood up for others when they wouldn’t stand up for themselves. During the harshest years when he and his family were vulnerable and his death was wanted by many, he continued to fight. When he was beaten and gassed in Selma, he continued to fight. When fighting meant he couldn’t financially support his family, he continued to fight. He’s a man who even in his advanced years, continues to fight and continues to have tremendous drive and determination. Yes, H. K. Matthews Drive is fitting.
As leaders from Brewton and Pensacola stood at the dais to recount the many fine qualities of Rev. Matthews, it was not lost on anyone in attendance that most streets for civil rights leaders are named posthumously. To the delight of family and friends, Matthews is not only alive but as active as ever as he continues to fight for justice and prepares to celebrate his 89th birthday in February.
Lumon May, District 3 Escambia County Commissioner, stated, “It’s so awesome today that while H.K. is still in the fight he’s being honored and that the city of Brewton thought enough of what he has done to honor him and so his legacy lives on beyond generations. It lives on beyond his great, great grandchildren. It lives on in perpetuity and into eternity as long as this road is here. So I’m grateful to be here. I’m thankful and I come in humility because the reason I get an opportunity to serve in Escambia County is because of H. K. Many of us in Pensacola with good jobs and good opportunity-we had an opportunity to stay because he had to leave. He left so it would be better for us. And so for that struggle, H. K., we certainly come to you with great gratitude and thanks.”
Pensacola Chief of Police, David Alexander, III, shared his earliest memory of Rev. Matthews from 1975, “He told us one night at Turner Baptist Church on Gulf Beach Highway, I want all of you all to go to school, I want you to get your lesson. I want you to make sure you learn something. He said, ‘because what we’re doing now, you’re going to need it later on.’ That was very inspiring to me. That was the first time I actually had seen him in person, but then I came to know him and see him down through the years. And certainly, when I was appointed Chief of Police, the first African-American to be appointed Chief of Police for the City of Pensacola, he was one of the first ones there to congratulate me. And so I was glad for him, that he could see me appointed in that position because that meant his labor for the community was not in vain. But it also inspired me to make sure today that while I live I seek to be an inspiration for other young men and women who may not at this point take civil rights, civil rights of all citizens, seriously. But just like it was serious then, it is serious now.”
A long-time friend of Matthews and activist, Ellison Bennett expressed the sentiment of many, “Rev. Matthews, thank you for your labors. Mrs. Mathews, thank you for sharing him with us and the world.”
The naming of H.K. Matthews Drive was spearheaded by Fred Barton, Brewton City Councilman, and Mayor Pro-tem.