Walter Knight deserves honor

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From labor rights to civil rights, he's been active and set a good example.

TONIGHT, MEMBERS OF the Beloit City Council are scheduled to recognize and honor Walter Knight. The Portland Avenue bridge will be named after him.

It is a fitting tribute for a talented, committed, calm and rational man who has spent his life believing that Beloit could be a better place for all people, no matter their color or social status. He challenged the community to rise above petty and superficial differences, to recognize that it was our common lot to be here and that everyone had a stake in making it work.

Knight did not do his work by focusing exclusively on the African American population from which he came, but by bridging the gap between the majority and minority. And so it is fitting his name will be applied to a bridge, a structure that helps people get from where they are to where they want to be.

WALTER KNIGHT, like many African Americans, arrived in Beloit from the segregated south in search of opportunity. Here in Beloit there were opportunities. But there also was segregation - the north wasn't colorblind, either.

Over his career Knight worked at Fairbanks Morse, and he strove to win labor rights for the working population. In later years he was instrumental in building the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Beloit, which recruited disadvantaged individuals and taught them the skills necessary to get jobs and build family-supporting careers.

Along the way Knight broke barriers, including becoming Beloit's first African American member of the City Council. His hard work gave him a voice in Beloit that carried weight. Power brokers listened, and sometimes negotiated, along the way making Beloit a better and fairer place for all its residents.

Knight, now 85, would be first to say the work isn't done. But those today who continue the work can stand on his broad shoulders.

And cross his bridge.

A FINAL WORD: At the other end of Riverside Park is another bridge named for the late entrepreneur Ken Hendricks. With the addition of the Knight Bridge, two men of vision - one representing industry, one labor - set the tone to continue to build upon Beloit's success. It's a good fit.

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