A Tribute To Nat LaCour
Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman Hill, staff coordinator of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma Hill, a former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is also the former civil and human rights director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“Try to leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” - Robert Baden-Powell
No words in any earthly language can adequately express our aching sorrow and heartbreak upon learning of the recent passing of our dear, dear friend and colleague, Nat LaCour. Yet, we must—as he would urge in all things—do our best, and so, in that light, we humbly offer tribute to this remarkable man and his undying legacy.
At this time of both grief and celebration of Nat’s long and fruitful life, we add our voices to the great chorus of sympathies pouring forth to cherish his memory. We particularly extend a special embrace and comfort to Connie, Nat’s wife and true partner, and their children.
The world, as we know and love it, will never be the same without Nat’s steady, tireless hand guiding and protecting progress for the many; all the while, illuminating the way with his reassuring smile.
Velma—My path first joined Nathaniel Hawthorne LaCour, Jr.’s in the early 1970s. At the time, Nat, a former public school teacher who never in his heart stopped teaching, was elected as a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and joined the AFT Executive Council. I, Velma Murphy Hill, a burgeoning civil rights and labor activist, was deeply involved in organizing New York’s thousands of paraprofessionals who worked in the city’s public schools as teachers’ aides. I traveled as a new vice president of the American Federation of Teachers to its Executive Council meeting where I met Nat and immediately discovered a champion in my cause, and a lifetime friend.
He was a constant source of encouragement and insight in my eventual success in organizing New York City’s paraprofessionals. It was not at all surprising that he later became the first executive vice-president and later secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers.
That was Nat. He had a brilliance. Everything he touched, he elevated.
Norm—I, Norman Hill, had a life-altering encounter with Nat that mirrors my wife’s. Velma and I met Nat in an era deeply shaped by our shared commitment to challenging the rugged landscape of America’s largely unkept promise to be a land of freedom and opportunity for all its people. As a co-founder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and later its longest serving president, a natural professional and personal affinity quickly developed between Nat and me when he became the founding president of the New Orleans, Louisiana affiliate of APRI.
By the 1990s, Nat and I worked closely under the auspices of APRI-sponsored voter participation drives in Louisiana. In the end, these would mobilize registered black voters and the entire black community in the state to have an opportunity to vote against David Duke’s runs for the U.S. Senate and for Governor of Louisiana. In both cases, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard was soundly defeated.
Nat not only spent a life making principled commitments, he inspired and led others to do the nuts and bolts work in pursuit of those principles. While I do not believe Nat spent a lot of time with A. Philip Randolph, the father of the modern civil rights movement, he was, nonetheless, a son of Randolph in his calm, deliberate, strategic approaches toovercoming the difficult issues facing Black America.
We, and a nation that obviously still needs him, miss Nat so much.
As a young Inexperienced AFT Local 1481 President Nat took time with me at every convention and came to the Bay Area often. His concern and lessons for public education and its role and our union’s role in our democracy will be wit me the rest of my life. It was my privilege to know Nat.
What a beautiful tribute to Nat. He really loved Norman and Velma and when Norman called and asked Nat to confer with him on the book that he and Velma were writing ,he was elated. Nat was proud to serve on the Board of the APRI and he would often remind people who talked about the March on Washington who the organizers of the March were. Nat was a true trade unionist who spent his life fighting for social , civic and economic justice for all. Thanks again to Norman, Velma and the NDI.