Editor’s note: This is the 426th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON — In lucky communities, a few citizens take it upon themselves to regularly attend and speak out at meetings of city councils, school boards and other public bodies — not just when something of personal interest is on the agenda.
Known by a nickname she couldn’t explain, Marion T. “Bunche” Gray was that kind of citizen activist.
Whenever Huntington City Council met, she could be counted on to be there, generally perched in the front row. When council opened the meeting to public comment, she would make her way to the microphone and put in her two cents worth, more often than not taking council members to task for something they had done — or maybe failed to do.
In a page-one news article published when she died in 2000, Bob Gabordi, then the editor of The Herald-Dispatch, said he got a visit from Gray during his first week on the job. She was straight and to the point, he recalled. Gabordi quoted her as saying: “There was a time when people who look like me weren’t allowed in this building. I remember it, and I want you to remember it, too.”
“She felt strongly that we had an important role to play in breaking negative stereotypes on race, and she was quick to point out when we failed to do our job properly in that regard,” Gabordi said.
In the same article, Mayor Jean Dean said she and Gray “didn’t hit if off too well at first. But I grew to respect her. She brought attention to many things that needed to be addressed.”
What prompted Gray to become such an outspoken citizen activist? Perhaps the answer can be found in a saying long displayed on her kitchen wall: “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something — Then I realized that I am somebody.”