It was 1968, 41 years ago in July, following the ’68 presidential campaign of Hubert Humphrey. Senator Humphrey asked me if I would move to Minnesota to take on the challenge of building an organization called T.C.O.I.C. (Twin Cities Opportunities Industrialization Center). I looked at him and said, “Mr. Humphrey, it’s cold in Minnesota.”
He said, “Get some long underwear and come anyway. When you get there, there are some people I want you to meet.”
The Reverend Stanley King picked me up from the airport. I dropped off my bags at his home and immediately went to meet two people: Cecil and Launa Newman. From day one, I could already recognize the depth, integrity and legendary character of these two people.
Cecil said to me, “Did you bring your long underwear?” I said, “Yes.” Launa looked at me and with her wonderful laugh said, “Good…you are going to need it!”
Thus, the journey began. The other day I called Launa’s daughter Norma to offer my sympathy and support, and she lifted me up with that incredible laugh, so much like Launa’s laugh. It raised my spirits. I needed that.
As all of us gather for her service, we will need the memory of Launa’s laugh as we put our arms around the Newman family. Today, I simply offer my personal touch in remembering. When all is said and done, all we have is our memories. I know all of you treasure your own personal memories of Launa.
When I got off the phone with Norma, I then called her brother Jack. He said to me that he was very upset and somewhat angry because God had called his mother home. He then said he was pumping gas at 80th and Portland Avenue. There had been no rain, yet he looked up and saw a rainbow. He was startled.
I told him I knew it was Launa looking down and saying it is well with her soul.
Saying God made the rainbow. Saying you and your family must continue the journeys of our legendary family. I told Jack that the rainbow he saw reminded me of the verses in Proverbs telling us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not into thine own understanding but in all ways acknowledge Him and he shall direct thy path.”
Cecil Newman was one of the closest confidants of Hubert Humphrey. He flew with him on Air Force One before Barack Obama was in high school, while Launa took care of forces on the ground. It was the Newman family, in 1947, that was responsible for desegregation of the hotels in Minneapolis. The Newman family was responsible for keeping the front page filled with hope when the streets of Plymouth Avenue were burning.
You see, Launa Newman was passionate in all that she did. Launa understood the meaning of community. She used her influence with women of influence, with the likes of the late Muriel Humphrey, in the Urban Coalition and other women’s groups to hold the city together in its darkest moments. If you knew her at all, you knew she did it with a smile but with the toughness and tenacity of a lion.
I don’t use the word “legendary” lightly. We know the legend of Cecil Newman. Today we honor the force and backbone, the literary mastermind who stood at his side through his life and who stood at his side when God called him home.
Launa was the Rock of Gibraltar, the spokeswoman who held the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder together for the next generation, for Tracey and the others, to come and continue the journey, a journey not just with the newspaper but with the community, bringing growth, hope, truth, decency and compassion to civil rights. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the Twin Cities guardian of excellence in reporting with credibility, is ample reason for remembering their legacy today and always.
The journeys and passions of Cecil and Launa are the journeys and passions that have made them legends. They deserve more than a street sign in South Minneapolis. They deserve a monument at city hall next to Hubert Humphrey’s. They deserve a building, a school, something special for two special people who I personally consider the godfather and godmother of the Twin Cities.
A wonderful service is not enough. We can do better. Just to shout amens and halleluiahs is not enough. We can do better. We can do more than just continue a newspaper. We can do better. A sign on the street corner is not enough. My prayer is for us to find a worthy way to honor these legends.
Launa was faith-based in all of her initiatives. Launa believed in her daily work what Dr. King preached across the nation and world: “If I can help somebody along the way, then my living shall not be in vain.”
I know Launa loved all kinds of music. In the ’70’s, Launa and her friends from her bridge group would come every other month to the top of the Hilton and listen to the jazz piano of Billy Wallace and, of course, yours truly. The group, including her good friend Charlotte Davis, would come early and stay through the last song.
One Friday night, I looked into her eyes and closed the night with “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” It was like God telling me what she needed. It was like a rainbow coming down to us.
Judy Garland brought us “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.” Dinah Washington sang, “Look, look, look to the rainbow. Follow it over hill and stream. Look, look, look to the rainbow. Follow the fellow who followed the dream”
Launa followed the fellow — Cecil. I can imagine the recent headlines in Heaven: “Launa followed her dreams.” The paper keeps her dreams alive.
Some will talk about the many lives Launa has touched. I know the message she shared with Cecil in their life work together. I know the message she would want to instill today in her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. I know the message she would share with co-workers. I know the message she would share with her community.
This message is part of her legacy. This message comes from the book of Micah, Chapter 6, Verse 8: “To do good…to love mercy…and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Message addressed to Norma, Jack, friends, family and community members by Tom Tipton of Tipton Music Ministries, Lord of Life Lutheran Church, 18500 County Road 101, Maple Grove, MN 55311.