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‘The struggle is not over:’ Pastor who worked directly with Dr. King reflects on his legacy

MILWAUKEE -- One of the key figures in the civil rights movement who worked directly with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during demonstrations down south lives in Milwaukee, and he sat down with FOX6 News on Monday, Jan. 21 to talk about what it was like during those pivotal moments.

"This was after the Birmingham demonstrations," said Pastor Joe Ellwanger.

Pastor Ellwanger said he carries the memories of his time spent working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Pastor Joe Ellwanger

"He was very personable, and did not have an aura of superiority," said Pastor Ellwanger.

He first met Dr. King in Birmingham, Alabama, right before an act of terrorism. The bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church devastated the community.

"I had the privilege of leading the worship for the funeral of three of the four girls. Dr. King had the message," said Pastor Ellwanger.

Ellwanger became the only religious leader who was white to be included in the strategy meetings Dr. King held to plan key demonstrations in Birmingham and Selma.

"'He was the leader of the movement, but he did not throw his weight around, and listened to what people had to say, and I think that was one of his keys to success as a leader," said Pastor Ellwanger.

They trusted in Dr. King through times of risk, and through struggle and failure, he brought hope. Their efforts brought change.

"There was always that sense of uneasiness and uncertainty as to what would happen. There was always the tendency to look to him as the one who was really going to pull it off," said Pastor Ellwanger.

That hope felt faint as news came that Dr. King had been killed.

" Now that he was gone, it made it very clear that local leaders were going to have to carry forward," said Pastor Ellwanger.

Ellwanger and others worked to further his message.

"The struggle for justice that Dr. King gave his life for is still very much with us," said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger moved to Milwaukee, where, for 50 years and counting, he has continued the fight for civil rights. He said he's not planning to stop any time soon.

"Keep on going. The struggle is not over, and we shall overcome," said Pastor Ellwanger.

Ellwanger was a local Lutheran pastor for decades, but he has since retired. He and his wife now spend most of their time involved in several social justice causes, such as ending mass incarceration in Wisconsin.

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