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Paducah Labor Day parade co-grand marshals always carry their union and NAACP cards

Berry Craig
05 Sep, 2022
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By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

The late W.C. Young, a national labor and civil rights leader from Paducah, often said that he never went anywhere without his union card and his NAACP card tucked in his wallet.

Neither do J.W. Cleary and Benny Heady, co-grand marshals of this year’s Paducah Labor Day parade, which rolled up Broadway this morning.

“I always tell people I wouldn't be where I am today without the labor union and the NAACP,” said Cleary, local NAACP branch president and a retired Steelworker. “The labor union tries to level the playing field. So does the NAACP. I’m proud to be a member of both.”

Heady, a retiree member of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 184, agreed. “I've been able to have a good  living because of the union,” said the NAACP branch first vice president. “I also have my union card and my NAACP card in my wallet. Yes, they go hand in hand, and I’m also proud to be a member of both.”

Cleary, Heady and their wives—Ardenia Cleary and Ida Heady--led off the parade seated in a horse drawn carriage.

The annual procession is sponsored by the all-volunteer, non-profit Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee, headed by David Yates, president of Local 184 and president of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. The group receives no government funding and relies on donations from unions and from businesses and individuals.

This year’s parade theme was “Organized Labor is the Core of America.” The procession drew 38 entries, according to Yates.

"Everything went off without a hitch," he said. "We were well satisfied."

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 parades.

Like Young, Cleary and Heady, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw the labor and civil rights movements as natural allies. “Our needs are identical with labor's needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community,” King told the 1961 AFL-CIO convention. “That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor.”

King also warned that “the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

Cleary and Heady said they were deeply honored to be chosen as grand marshals. “This is the day that working people are recognized,” Heady said. “It was the labor of working people that built every road, every house, every building, every bridge."

Festivities at the city’s Carson Park followed the parade. Vendors sold food and soft drinks, and bands provided music. Yates said the committee was happy with the crowd turnout along the parade route and at the park.