CROWN HEIGHTS — Hundreds of mourners filled the auditorium at Medgar Evers College Monday to bid farewell to Congressman Major Owens, a civil rights leader, anti-poverty activist and the school's elder statesman.
"[Owens] was the of our patron saints of the movement for economic and social justice, and for peace," said Professor Roger Green. "He took that passion for justice to the halls of the most powerful legislative body on earth."
Owens was first appointed to pubic office by Mayor John Lindsay as commissioner of the Community Development Agency in 1968. He was elected to the New York State Senate in 1974 and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1982 to 2007.
"I describe Major as a quiet storm," said friend and former NAACP President Hazel Dukes. "He came in with no ego, just to do the work."
But in Central Brooklyn, he may best be remembered as a dedicated and passionate teacher, and a tireless supporter of Medgar Evers College, where there are plans to create a scholarship in his name.
"Major was what we call in the Old Testament a wilderness prophet," Green said. "He was a mentor for me and so many other young men and women who grew up in Central Brooklyn."
Several students recalled touching stories of the professor, including the moment in his very last weeks when Owens checked himself out of the hospital to teach his class.
"When he came in his wheelchair, we nearly had a heart attack, because we knew he snuck out of the hospital, " said student Evangeline Beyer. "I thought he would be here when I graduate, but I'm so grateful I got to sit at his feet."
Others remembered him simply for his tirelessness.
"There's something to be said for people who make a way out of no way — theres's something to be said for being bold how Major was," said Medgar Evers President Rudolph Crew.
"The life of Major Owens is the life of somebody who essentially crossed over. He crossed over from an era of fighting for these rights to an era when he got to spend the rest of his life making sure others got to stand on his shoulders."