Raleigh's Cy King, a soldier for peace and justice

July 3, 2014 

Even as life was ebbing from the body, the spirit was as strong as ever. Yes, at the very last, Cy King was concerned about getting down to the Legislative Building for another Moral Monday demonstration. He was 92, and his last visit there had been in a wheelchair, but he was ready to go again.

It was not to be. Cy died last Wednesday in Raleigh, quietly, with dignity, at home and after a life dedicated to raising awareness of the needs of the less fortunate, the deprivations of rights for those of color, the consequences of war.

His friend and admirer William Friday, the late president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system and the state's greatest native son, had a singular comment on the loss of people such as Cy King. As he is not here to deliver it, let the honors be done in his stead: A giant has fallen.

It is no overstatement. Cy lived a life as righteous as a life can be. He was honest. He was true. He was brave. He was kind. He was generous. He was a spectacular husband and father and a faithful friend. He was unfailingly modest, though he had in his life done much of which to be proud.

It's hard to say where it started, the passionate advocacy for all the causes: civil rights, women's equality, peace, gay rights, help for the poor and the disabled and children. Most certainly he was influenced by his late wife, Carolyn, who died two years ago.

Yes, this was a partnership in love and life. In recent years, he and Carolyn were out and about from their apartment at the Whitaker Glen retirement community many nights, but not on the town. They were going to meetings, all sorts of gatherings of activists campaigning for civil rights, women, voting rights, anything under the cope of civil liberties.

It was a remarkable display of energy, truly. Two people well in their 80s, getting in the white car with all the liberal bumper stickers bound for the precinct meeting.

No one cause trumped others, but most people associated Cy with regular peace vigils downtown. Slender and smiling, he stood quietly through wars and near-wars and threats of war. Sometimes, in the larger gatherings, unkind comments were overheard. But though Cy was passionate for his cause, he never angered, never displayed any antagonism toward anyone.

In fact, even as his once-robust health clearly was leaving him, when his friends would call concerned about how he was doing, he would say, "Just fine!" and want to talk politics. Carolyn, who battled cancer for so many years, was exactly the same way. Few can remember her without a smile because she always had one, even when she was unwell.

There was one thing about Cy that surprised people, particularly those who knew him primarily from his "peacenik" demonstrations. The peace protester had a past he'd sort of shrouded not in secrecy but in modesty.

He was a soldier in the bloodiest part of World War II, in the winter of 1944-45, when Germany mounted a desperate offensive on the Western Front in the Battle of the Bulge. More than 19,000 Americans were killed, and stories of the brutality of the fighting are told still. Cy King was there.

He would not defend himself in this way against critics who called him unpatriotic because of his peace vigils, but his friends did. I once had an angry confrontation with one such critic who blasted Cy as a communist. "He was in the Battle of the Bulge," I told the fellow. "I'll be happy to pass along your gratitude to him for fighting for your freedom."

It's one thing for an unapologetic liberal to take up a cause in which he or she has a personal interest, and quite another for that person to sign up for them all. And even more amazing to sign up with the same enthusiasm for them all.

What a joy there was in the fellow, what infectious happiness, what humor, what courage. The liberals and civil rights activists are, as they say, down a man. But Heaven is up one, for certain. Cy won't care much for streets paved with gold. But he'll be happy to be in the company of someone called the Prince of Peace.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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