EXCLUSIVE: 53 years after attending Dr. King's funeral at the behest of Ann Arbor, Michigan officials, meet the Black man who was president of the NAACP Youth Council and whose name never made the newspapers in 1968 (Online Audio Documentary).
Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., attended Dr. Martin L. King Jr.'s funeral when he was 17 as a youthful representative of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Even though Welch was president of the NAACP Youth Council in Ann Arbor and was invited to attend Dr. King's funeral by then-Mayor Wendell Hulcher, his name was not included in newspaper coverage of the Michigan delegation's 1968 trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D.
This is Regina L. Burns, reporting for Harvest Reapers Communications.
Imagine it’s April 9, 1968, and you’re in Atlanta, Georgia. You’re attending (video of Dr. King's funeral service) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. You went to the funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church to represent your city’s youth. And by the way, you’re a 17-year-old Black male.
(See video of Mrs. Coretta Scott King as she lies in honor at the Georgia state Capitol).
1--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Me): “I was a senior … Hulcher of Ann Arbor.”
That’s Edward Welch Jr., who holds a doctorate in Mass Communication from Ohio University. He’s an Associate Professor at Grambling State University’s Department of Mass Communication.
Welch stepped into history when he attended Dr. King’s funeral in 1968. This is the first time he has publicly shared his thoughts about this historic event. I interviewed him in 2018 and again in 2021.
2--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (There): “I feel extremely fortunate … I was there.”
The Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council sent Mayor Wendell Hulcher and Welch to Atlanta. They were part of a prestigious delegation from Michigan headed by then-Gov. George Romney, according to an April 9, 1968, Associated Press news story in the Enquirer and News newspaper in Battle Creek, Michigan.
3--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Dropped Off): “Now, I know … way it went.”
Like so many cities, Ann Arbor roared with unrest after the April 4 assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, the AP story reported violence occurred in several Michigan cities in the hours before King’s funeral.
The AP story also reported Hulcher’s attendance at Dr. King’s funeral generated backlash from Albert Wheeler, Dr.PH., who at the time was president of the Michigan branch of the NAACP. Welch explains what Wheeler found troublesome:
4--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr. Ph.D., (Wheeler): “Did not want … him speaking up.”
Hulcher died in 1999.
Charles Whitman was the NAACP Youth Council’s Education Chair at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He later worked for Ford Motor Company in Livonia, Michigan for 30 years until his retirement. During a May 2021 interview, Whitman recalled Welch’s 1968 trip to attend Dr. King’s funeral.
5--SOUNDBITE Charles Whitman (Supportive): “We were very … the Youth Council.”
6--SOUNDBITE Charles Whitman (Activist): “What are some things … of an activist nature.”
Whitman said President Lyndon Johnson ordered flags at half-staff. However, not everyone followed his command.
7--SOUNDBITE Charles Whitman (Half-staff): “What I recall is … and what not.”
I received this May 18, 2021-email from the Ann Arbor Public Schools in response to my request for comment, “Unfortunately, we do not have a good way to research this information to confirm it in such a short time period.”
Meanwhile, Welch picked up the story with his memories of an unforgettable funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
8--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Wilt Chamberlain): “Do you recall … inside the church.”
(See Alabama Department of Archives & History's photo of Richard Nixon and Wilt Chamberlain in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral procession).
After the funeral on the airplane trip back to Michigan, Welch and Hulcher shared a remarkable discussion.
9--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Politics): “You had mentioned … home from Atlanta.”
Welch graduated from high school in June 1968. He completed college and later earned masters’ degrees from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University. In 1979, he accepted his second general assignment reporter’s job. He moved his family from Buffalo, New York to work for WHBQ-TV in Memphis. Welch said he was later approached by the station’s news management about a promotion to executive producer. In 1982, Welch became the first Black manager in TV news in Memphis, he said. He achieved that milestone when he accepted the executive producer promotion.
I wanted to know if and how attending Dr. King’s funeral prepared him to become a reporter and an executive producer.
10--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Journalist): “I think all this… being a journalist.”
He later transitioned to a new career in academia, which he still finds satisfying. His numerous accomplishments in journalism education include shepherding students’ award-winning entries in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program.
11--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Hearst): “So, what are you … students to compete.”
Starting with the NAACP Youth Council presidency at his high school, Welch has embodied leadership and courage. He attended Dr. King’s funeral alone when he was a teenager.
That accomplishment is too important not to be recorded in the annals of history.
This has been Regina L. Burns reporting for Harvest Reapers Communications, in Dallas.
Copyright © May 19, 2021, Regina L. Burns, Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
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About the Author:
Regina L. Burns, M.A., Project+, is an award-winning multimedia editor and journalist, specializing in Black history and African American stories at Harvest Reapers Communications. Her work has been published in Texas Highways magazine, WFAA-TV, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as The Commercial Appeal, the Tri-State Defender and The Flyer, among others.