Bill Pigford marched with Dr. King and treated wounded soldiers in Vietnam. He’s worried about today’s threats to all he’s helped fight for.
Bill Pigford, a Unit Specialist at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, MD, says he has no time for people who did not bother to vote in the 2016 election.
“If you didn’t vote,” he tells people, “You actually did vote for the person who is in office.”
Pigford, 74, was born, it could be said, into the role of passionate leadership. As a young man, he was active in the civil rights movement as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), helping provide shelter, food and transportation to young people who came to the South to press for change. Pigford also took part in sit-ins and protests. He was in his early twenties when civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were abducted and murdered by white supremacists for their work registering Black voters in Mississippi. The murders sparked national outrage and Pigford’s mother warned her young son away from his work with CORE.
“You need to stop what you’re doing, because people are going to kill you,” she pleaded.
He refused. “If I have to go on living like we have been then I’m already dead,” he reasoned. Pigford was among those arrested at lunch counter sit in at Laurel’s Pinehurst Hotel in Laurel, Miss.
“I just wanted to order some coffee and some pie,” he says.
For his request Pigford was locked up for 30 days in the Laurel County Jail.
“In that time, I was never charged with any crime and never had a day in court. I spent my 21st birthday in jail,” he notes sardonically.
It took a visit from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations to free him. “I was removed by FBI agents because an informant told them I was going to be killed that night,” he says matter-of-factly.
Pigford went on to help organize buses for Mississippi for the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. He then became a combat medic in the Vietnam War. He carried on his civil rights work in the U.S. Army, becoming an equal opportunities and race relations non-commissioned officer.
Pigford retired from the army in 1996 as a Master Sargent.
For the last 20 years he’s worked at Prince George’s Hospital. His dedication to his role as a delegate stems from his core values of justice and equality.
“Every man and every woman should be able to feed their families,” believes Pigford, “and working together in our union is the best way we can fight to ensure that everyone can.”
“I had prostate cancer and the only reason I’m alive today is because my union health insurance meant I was able to go to the doctor on time and receive the 41 shots of radiation I needed.”
Yet, for all he’s been though, he’s still alarmed at the division in today’s society; it should raise alarms for everyone, he says.
“Now I’m worried because everything I have fought for all my life can be taken away with the stroke of a pen,” he says flatly.
Pigford counsels unity and action, not bitterness, as the path forward.
“Man’s injustice to man has caused such pain, I don’t want my legacy to be about hatred. We are living in dangerous times and we need to vigilant,” he says “The union is the only organization in today’s chaotic world that is fighting to bring back the balance of power to our nation. People who are unionized are like brothers and sisters. If we stand together we will prevail.”