PEPER COLUMN: His life is worthy of MLK dream

Louis Waring Jr.

BRAD NETTLES

When I was 14, I broke my arm trying to high-jump with my brothers in our North Charleston backyard.

When Louis Waring Jr. was 14, he joined the Navy to fight in World War II. How in the world could somebody barely a teenager talk his way into military service? Why would he want to?

Those are just a couple of questions that open a window into the Waring world.

Now 83, Waring is retired and his son has just taken his seat on Charleston City Council.

But on this MLK holiday, when we're reminded to concentrate not on color of skin but content of character, I've got to know more of the hows and whys of Louis Waring's life as a teenage sailor.

As you were

Waring was 110 pounds and convinced his daddy to say he was 17 when he signed for him at the Marion Square recruiting office. "Mama wanted to kill him" when she found out. Waring's hitch was from October 1942 to April 1946.

He was never stationed overseas. Most of that time was spent loading supplies and ammunition onto ships at Port Chicago.

When he got out of the Navy, he went back to high school because "I didn't know anything."

He quickly learned that in spite of winning a war elsewhere, there were still many battles to fight here in the States.

Waring became involved in those civil rights struggles while working at the Naval Shipyard and through segregated PTA committees.

All hands on deck

The most-heard expression along an MLK parade route is "Happy King Day."

I'm pretty sure Dr. King would have been very happy to have known and seen the life lived by Louis Waring Jr.

I've ridden in these parades and anchored TV broadcasts of them, as well. To tell you the truth, there are many folks lined up on the streets who are just as important to the progress of civil rights as those who are on the floats. People who raised families and tried to answer tough questions that sometimes had no easy answers about how we treat and look at each other.

When I broke my arm at 14, I was just being a boy.

When Louis Waring Jr. joined the Navy at the same age, he became a man and started a life of service that still continues.

Waring sued a local bowling alley once because it would not admit blacks. He fought the shipyard when guys who looked like him weren't getting promoted, even though they worked just as hard as others who were.

He won both those battles and many others along the way.

He volunteered to serve his country, only to realize he'd have to continually battle for his own rights as a human.

Waring says there are still some things that need to be adjusted, but as Americans, we've come a long way. He also says, "America's still the best you got on this planet."

He was a good sailor and remains a better man. We all benefit because he never stopped fighting.

To reach Warren Peper, call 937-5577 or wpeper@postandcourier.com.