Monday, January 15, 2007

Tuscaloosa Kicks Off King Day 2007

Even though it meant starting out a little earlier than I would normally would on a Monday morning, I managed to get up and arrive nearly on time at a 7am breakfast in West Tuscaloosa in honor of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coming from Richmond, Va., where Community Learning Week is one of the nation’s biggest celebrations of King’s birthday, second only to Atlanta, I find it hard to believe some people will in good conscious do nothing to mark the occasion.

Here in Tuscaloosa, the local chapter of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King founded, takes charge of a series of activities known as “Unity Day Celebrations” that in addition to the breakfast, include a unity march and mass meeting.

Before enjoying the breakfast of scrambled eggs, grits, bacon, sausage and biscuits, eleven community leaders and elected officials made quick two-minute greetings to the crowd of more than 300 in attendance.

They included representatives from Tuscaloosa’s three higher education institutions, both Tuscaloosa County and City Schools, the NAACP and the local and state chapters of the SCLC.

One of the speakers noted that today is the first celebration of King’s birthday without either the late civil rights leader and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who passed away last February.

“Mrs. King played a major role in why we’re here today,” said Cordell Wynn, special assistant to the president of Shelton State Community College. Wynn was a member of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (now Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church) when King was the pastor.

“It was always a pleasure to greet her as much as it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We honor her as we honor her husband”

It’s little tidbits like that from those who step out of history, who knew Dr. King that make attending events like those held today worthwhile for those of us who were not alive during the civil rights era.

As is the case with so many of these events, the majority of those attending were 50 and up. Granted they are in a much better position to recognize the significance of the stock markets, federal and state governments and schools all being closed to honor Dr. King. But, so many more people should acknowledge the only federal holiday named for an African-American.

It’s not only about what happened in the past, but also what’s to come in the future—some of those events here in Tuscaloosa certainly include an element of race—the line that divided so many in the lifetime of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Today locked arm-and-arm singing the familiar civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome,” Tuscaloosa’s black and white residents and dozens of their elected officials ( Police Chief Chuck Swindol and Mayor Walt Maddox, School Superintendents Frank Constanzo, Joyce Levey to name a few) showed how far we have come in crossing that racial divide in this city.

At the same time, many of those speaking reminded those in attendance of how far we have to go.

“I don’t care who disagrees with me. Times aren’t as bad as they used to be. But, we ain’t free,” said Willie C. Jones, pastor of Tuscaloosa’s Bailey Tabernacle CME Church. “We are in troubled times when youth don’t have hope.”

Jones gave the keynote address this morning, which he entitled “Hold On To Your Hope.” He touched on many issues still facing Tuscaloosa today: teen pregnancy, hunger, homeless, violent, lack of black-owned businesses.

This morning’s breakfast was to be followed by a noon-time march from Martin Luther King Elementary School to Tuscaloosa City Hall where Mayor Walt Maddox was scheduled to speak. Then, tonight Tyshawn Gardner, pastor of the city’s Plum Grove Baptist Church will deliver the main address at a 6 p.m. mass rally at First African Baptist Church.

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