The Queens of King: Palm Beach
WEST PALM BEACH — Growing up in the Deep South at a time when equal rights were denied, an educator with a strong desire to seek positive change emerged. Deeply affected by the Civil Rights Movement and subsequent death of its leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., community activist Edith Bush knew something had to be done.
HUNDREDS FOR BREAKFAST
A highlight of the committee’s federal holiday celebration is the Annual MLK Scholarship Breakfast, which draws such notable speakers as former Gov. Charlie Crist, and in recent years has been attended by upward of a thousand people. With this year’s keynoter, Bishop Paul S. Morton, the event again takes place at 8 a.m. on Jan. 16 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Among the committee’s signature accomplishments, destined to leave a lasting legacy, is the Martin Luther King Jr. Landmark Memorial, dedicated in April 2000 at Flagler Drive and 23rd St. in Currie Park. The distinguished monument along the Intracoastal Waterway, with an island of Palm Beach backdrop, features a 7-foot sculpture with bronze bust of Dr. King, produced by Tampa sculptor Steve Dickey.
The 2012 MLK celebration theme is “From Dream to Equality,” a reflection of King’s dream that all human beings would receive fair treatment in every aspect of life.
Integral to all the committee’s accomplishments has been its longtime leader, a selfless servant in the mold of Dr. King and countless others whose sacrifices continue to change the nation and the world.
Bush’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement began at an early age. “I grew up in a very segregated town, in Andalusia, Ala,” she said. Her father, the late Willie “Will” Lee Coleman, worked for the mayor of Andalusia as a cook when she was a young girl. “When we went to see our father in the mayor’s house,” Bush said, “my dad had to drive his car around to the back door to go in.”
Coleman was also the president of the NAACP in Andalusia, and Bush and he would discuss the inequities of the citizens in Alabama. “I grew up with an outdoor toilet,” she said. “We were one of the first in our neighborhood, I guess because my daddy did work for the mayor, to get an indoor toilet.”
Bush grew up, earned a bachelors degree from Bethune-Cookman University (Class of ’54) and a Master of Education degree from Florida Atlantic University. She retired in 1987 after 32 years as an educator in Palm Beach County, but has never stopped seeking fair treatment.
“We read about the Civil Rights Movement, and Montgomery being just about 85 miles north of where I was born, I was very much aware of what was going on,” Bush said. “Especially after Dr. Martin Luther King passed away, that really fueled our interest in the Civil Rights Movement.”
In 1981, she and fellow educators established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Coordinating Committee after years of seeking positive change through the Black Educators Caucus. “The members of our organization were part of the civil rights movement themselves,” she said. “The late Saul Silverman was a union organizer,” she said, citing one who “marched with Dr. King.” Bush said other members experienced segregation as they were growing and figured the best way to help was to get involved.
Last January, Bush was an Individual Leadership Award winner during Palm Beach State College’s annual MLK Holiday celebration. In November, her Coordinating Committee was a Black Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit of the Year Finalist. Among innumerable other recognitions, “Mrs. Bush,” as she affectionately is known, was recognized by the Florida Conference of Muslim Americans during their October 1993 meeting in Riviera Beach, for her steadfast and tireless efforts to promote cultural awareness and unity.
The community activist in the mold of her father and Dr. King continues to educate regarding the importance of African-American history and cultural awareness.
“More than ever we need to be aware of and understand other cultures, their skills and talents and what they have to offer,” Bush said. “That's what Dr. King was all about.”
Photo: Edith Bush