Friends remember Newman's lifetime of advocacy

·4 min read

Sep. 23—Many are remembering a lifetime of advocacy by Miller Newman, affectionately known as "Bo" to his many friends, in McAlester and across the state.

Newman, 79, died Sept. 19 at his McAlester home, surrounded by his family, after battling a long illness.

He served as Pittsburg County and then state president, of the NAACP. He also served as union representative of the branch of United Auto Workers, that represented workers at the former aircraft manufacturing facility that's been known by several names, including North American Rockwell, Boeing and Spirit, before closing earlier this year.

Newman served for years as head of the Pittsburg County Holiday Commission, which is involved with organizing the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Ceremony, followed by the MLK Banquet held every January. He also became deeply involved in organizing the Juneteenth Celebration now held annually at McAlester's Hunter Park.

He could also be counted on for something else. Each November, Newman served with other volunteers to help prepare the annual Pittsburg County Community Thanksgiving Dinner, helping debone turkeys for the dressing or assisting in any other was he was needed.

Loise Washington — who worked in former U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert's office in Washington, then served as chief of staff at Albert's McAlester office after he retired — became acquainted with Newman while working with Albert.

"I've known Bo since I moved to McAlester," Washington said. "He was definitely a leader in our community and in the state."

She said Newman is considered an icon for his work for civil rights. He learned from the best, Washington noted.

"I think he was mentored by Reverend Watts," she said, referring to the Rev. Wade Watts, the strong civil rights advocate from McAlester who also served as county and statewide head of the NAACP and who marched with Dr. King in Alabama during the height of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Newman first joined the NAACP at 13, signing on with a youth chapter the organization had at the time. He went on to become an adult member, then president of the NAACP's Pittsburg County Chapter and ultimately, the organization's statewide president. He later continued to serve as president of the NAACP's county chapter, a position he held until his health no longer allowed it.

Loise Washington recalled how Newman would make his position known whenever he saw injustice.

"He was interested in what you were talking about and he cared about what you were talking about," she said. "I don't know he ever turned anybody down when he was sought out for help."

The Rev. Anthony Washington, of Mount Triumph Baptist Church in McAlester, planned to deliver the eulogy for Newman during services set for 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at Life Church in McAlester.

Anthony Washington, who is married to Loise, also knew Newman well.

"Miller was a one-of-a-kind person, dedicated to his country and the state and did a lot of things for the nation that probably no one ever hears about," Anthony Washington said.

Newman worked tirelessly for others, Washington noted.

"He will definitely leave a void," Anthony Washington said. "I'm grateful for his leadership for the county and the state and the time he spent on the highway trying to bring about positive change."

On a personal level, Anthony Washington said Newman helped mentor him through various degrees when he became a member of Masonic Lodge #59 in McAlester.

"I will forever be thankful for the acts of kindness and leadership he gave," Washington said.

McAlester Mayor John Browne got to know Newman years before Browne became mayor, when Browne served first as the local, then the statewide president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. Browne said he became statewide union president around the same time Newman served as state president of the NAACP.

"That's when I got to know him," Browne said. They also were both very much involved with the Democrat Party, Browne said.

"He was a great guy who always cared for people and spent a large part of his life trying to make things better for working people and people of color," said Browne.

"I definitely considered him a friend, a mentor, someone I had great respect for. The world is a worse place for losing him."

In a 2020 interview with the News-Capital, Newman spoke of the revived civil rights movement that followed the death of George Floyd under a policeman's knee in Minneapolis.

While making a point of disavowing the rioting and looting that occurred in some places, Newman still felt encouraged by the many who came together to peacefully protest.

"There are so many people, all races and colors," Newman said. "This is what America's supposed to look like.

"They shouldn't just be looking for justice for me and you," he said. "There's got to be justice for all of us."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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