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Ex-Sen. Harris Wofford, civil rights activist, dies at age 92

By Darryl Coote
Ex-Sen. Harris Wofford, civil rights activist, dies at age 92
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford died Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday that he helped bring into being. File Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Harris Wofford, former Democratic senator for Pennsylvania, civil rights activist and an early supporter of Martin Luther King Jr., has died.

He was 92.

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Wofford died at a Washington hospital from complications from a fall, his son Daniel Wofford told the Washington Post.

Wofford died on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday that he helped bring into being by co-sponsoring the bill to make the third Monday of January a day to respect the late civil rights leader.

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Wofford had called for it to be "a day 'on,' not a day off. A day of action, not apathy. A day of responding to community needs, not a day of rest and recreation," according to The Times and Democrat.

He was a civil rights activist with Robert F. Kennedy, the late President John F. Kennedy's brother, having called him a "slight madman" in his commitment to the rights of others, the Washington Post reported.

However, he is best known for helping to secure John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential victory against Richard Nixon.

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Following King's arrest in October 1960 for participating in a sit-in, fear spread among the black community that their leader would be killed behind bars, the Washington Post reported, adding that Wofford had the idea for John Kennedy to call King's wife, Coretta Scott King, to show their sympathy and offer assistance.

Robert Kennedy then called the judge in King's case, and the civil rights leader was released the next day.

Seventy percent of black voters voted for Kennedy, helping to secure him the small margin he needed to defeat Nixon.

Wofford served as a senator from Pennsylvania from 1991-95.

He is survived by his husband Matthew Charlton, whom Wofford married in 2016, daughter Susanne and son David.

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