By Cash Michaels
For state Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake] and his oldest son, Dan III, this Sunday, Sept. 11, has an extra special meaning.
On that day ten years ago, Blue, a former NC House Speaker, had spoken by phone with a Carolinian reporter about his decision to run for the United States Senate representing North Carolina. He would be filing papers shortly, and his campaign team had been at his office strategizing their next moves.
Little did Rep. Blue know that in a manner of hours, his son would be fleeing for his life, along with tens of thousands of others in New York City, after two hijacked airliners slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m.
This Sunday, Sept. 11, also has special meaning for attorney Marjorie Fields-Harris.
Ten years ago, Fields-Harris, who used to work in the Wake County Sheriff’s Department for then Sheriff John Baker, was having breakfast with civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton at a Brooklyn restaurant.
Fields-Harris was the executive director of Sharpton’s National Action Network. They had been canvassing New York’s subway entrances campaigning for a Hispanic candidate for New York mayor. It was a bright, clear primary day in the Big Apple, and Sharpton’s team had been up since before the sun urging voters to go to the polls.
As they had their meal during a breakfast break, little did they realize tat across the bridge in Manhattan, what was first thought of as a tragic airplane accident at the World Trade Center, soon developed into a horrible terrorist attack with thousands killed.
Dan Blue, his son Dan III, and Marjorie Fields-Harris, are just three of the untold number of people with North Carolina roots, who have a direct connection to that fateful, historic day in America on Sept. 11, 2001. And ten years later, all three say that day changed their lives, making them more aware of the collective responsibility Americans have to each other, not just to protect against terrorism, but to build a better world.
It took seeing for themselves first hand just how vulnerable a mighty nation like the United States really is to terrorist attacks, to open their eyes to the need of making every day count, they say, building bridges over social barriers, and develop better resources, preparation and defenses.
Dan III, a graduate of Enloe High School in Raleigh and currently an attorney specializing in corporate law in his father’s firm of Blue, was an investment banker with the now-defunct Bears Stearns Co. in New York City. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was taking special classes at the company's offices in midtown Manhattan's Times Square.
His class was interrupted when people came in with reports of what had happened at the World Trade Center, at the time, the singular symbol of American economic dominance. When it became clear that the city, if not the nation, was under attack, Blue III left to head home. New York public transportation had been halted. Buses and subways were shutdown. Thousands took to the streets on New York, stopping only to watch the horrifying pictures on street level televisions of the burning Twin Towers crumbling before their eyes.
“Pretty quickly, we realized that something bigger than New York City was happening, “ Dan III recalls.
Back in North Carolina, his parents can’t reach him, trying to call, but the lines in New York are down.
With cellphone service disrupted (text messaging didn’t exist then), Blue III just kept walking the many blocks and miles along Manhattan’s Westside Highway to his home at W.72nd street and Amsterdam Avenue, feeling the thickness and intensity of fear all around him.
“Everybody was walking quickly, and in the same direction,” Dan III said. “It was scary, but it was an orderly evacuation.”
On his way, by mid-morning, he’s able to let his mother, Edna Earl Blue, know that he’s OK, and headed to safety.
Once home, he finally got a line out to Raleigh, letting family and friends know that he was all right amid the horrifying events just miles away.
Before his wife called him with the welcomed news that their son in New York was safe, state Sen. Blue was naturally concerned, he said, worried and fearful that “Danny” might be injured.
He decided that from that point forward, his campaign for the US Senate had to change its focus. The world would never be the same after 9-11-2001, he says, and he wanted to go to Washington, D.C., representing the people of North Carolina, to help lead the effort to bring about that needed change.
Blue ultimately lost in the Democratic US Senate primaries in 2002 to Erskine Bowles, but he never lost his perspective on what America’s role in the world must be if it is to truly serve all of its people.
He admits that the first thing he wanted to do was “go after the terrorists,” but once he knew his son was safe, Sen. Blue realized that “we are part of a bigger mosaic.”
Dan III agrees, saying that while he saw fear, he also saw New Yorkers, and ultimately Americans, coming together to help one another in times of crisis.
“We’ve got to find a way to make it better world,” Blue III says 9-11 ultimately taught him.
Over in Brooklyn on that same fateful morning ten years ago this weekend, Marjorie Fields-Harris knew the moment she saw the World Trade Center in flames, that she and the rest of Rev. Sharpton’s team had to get back to their Harlem headquarters because they would be needed in the community.
“I immediately called Rev's driver who was yelling that we needed to get out of there because they were shutting down the bridges into Manhattan,” Fields-Harris recalled in an op-ed piece titled, “Terror at Our Door.”
“By the time we got into the van and traveled the 1.3 miles from Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues to the Brooklyn Bridge, all gateways to the city were shut down. Rev directed his driver to try the Williamsburg Bridge next, and if we encountered the same problem, to jump on the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) to try the Triboro Bridge.”
Fields-Harris continued, “As his driver maneuvered the streets, we looked across the water and witnessed a visual that remains seared in my mind to this day. On this clear and bright day, we could clearly see the darkened and charred holes in both towers -- smoke emanating from the places where unimaginable evil had landed at our front door. The radio was carrying reports of the incidents, with reporters offering more questions than answers at this point. Our cell phone signals were intermittent at best but I was able to reach my mother, who was in North Carolina, to quell her fears.”
“When we finally made it to the Triboro bridge, there was a standing line of cars trying to make it across,” Fields-Harris continued. “The bridge was closed and only emergency service cars, private cars carrying physicians and emergency workers and a few city service vehicles were being allowed to cross.
“Rev asked me to question the officials near the barricade about possible passage for his vehicle. After much discussion, they granted Reverend Sharpton access into the city, but not his vehicle. I was able to flag down a sanitation truck whose driver said that he could take the two of us across the bridge but that he would have to follow the route that he was assigned once there. His truck was directed north and he let us out close to the Madison Avenue Bridge. It was odd because there was no traffic and an eerie silence along the streets as we walked down to our headquarters.”
“Reverend kept saying that we needed to be there for the community because many of them would be seeking prayer and a place of refuge until things quieted down. He was correct,” Fields-Harris wrote. “That began the first of many vigils and prayer circles that we had with families and the communities for the events of 9-11.”
Today Fields-Harris is back in North Carolina, heading up her own consulting firm, and writing.
She says that 9-11 taught her that communities of color are even more vulnerable because they don’t have the standard access to communications and resources in cases of emergency. Fields-Harris says she’s developed a personal emergency plan for herself and her family.