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home : news : e-news January 23, 2018

1/12/2018 5:23:00 AM
MLK Day Monday January 15th

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an American federal holiday. Dr. King was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929, and the holiday falls on the nearest Monday to this date. This year, it just happens to fall on his actual birthday.

Several cities and states began to honor the day in 1971, just three years after he was assassinated; it became a federal holiday in 1986.

Hundreds of streets in the United States have been renamed in King's honor. Lincolnton just renamed what was previously Abernathy Street off East Main Street as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Gastonia named the northern part of Marietta Street from the center of town north to the city limits at the bridge over Long Creek, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in 2015.

What had been called Second Street in uptown Charlotte was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 2006.

In Cleveland County, the predominantly African-American town Kingstown was named in honor of Dr. King.

As I sat down to write this article about MLK Day and the activities planned for the day and for other days this weekend and next week, it occurred to me that unlike myself and older readers who remember Dr. King well and were alive when he was a champion of the Civil Rights movement, younger readers only know what they've read or learned in school.

While racism and discrimination still exist in our society, it is, thanks in large part to the efforts of heroes like Dr. King, nothing like it once was.

Younger people may find it hard to believe that once African-Americans had to behave in a certain subservient way just as a matter of survival. They were required to sit at the back of buses--as those who have read about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott surely know. They were refused service at restaurants. If they could order food at all, they had to come to the back door and wait for it to be handed to them outside. They were banned from hotels and motels.

In Lincolnton, blacks attending movies at the Century Theatre downtown had to use a separate entrance and sit in the balcony. Only one doctor, Dr. Boyce Griggs, made a regular practice of seeing black patients--and he had a separate waiting room; they weren't allowed to sit with the whites. Only one of the two funeral homes, Drum's, would handle arrangements for black funerals. Schools were segregated well into the 1960s and the black schools usually got the used textbooks that had been discarded by the white schools--often filled with racial slurs written by the white students.

Dr. King is most remembered for his "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom August 28, 1963. It wasn't the speech he had intended to give. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson realized that the early remarks by Dr. King hadn't really stirred the huge crowd. She told him, "tell them about the dream, Martin." At that point, he delivered a new version of a speech he had made in Detroit (and some say, although I have no record to prove it) in Rocky Mount, NC earlier that year.

Dr. King was not the primary organizer of the March on Washington. It was actually the leader of the NAACP and other civil rights organizers who pushed for it. Many associate Dr. King's memory with the NAACP, but he was in fact the leader of a group known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King actually came into the civil rights movement following in the footsteps of the previous pastor of a church he pastored. His earliest significant involvement was the Montgomery bus boycott, but after that he was involved in many civil rights struggles and marches and became the best known figure of the movement. He was the primary leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in support of voting rights for all people. He was in Memphis, Tennessee, in support of sanitation workers who were seeking better pay and working conditions when he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray at 6 PM April 4, 1968, as he stood on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

In 1964, Dr. King received a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent fight against racial inequality. At 35, he was the youngest person ever to have received that award.

In the final years of his life, Dr. King's focus changed to include a resistance to widespread poverty and the Vietnam War. The latter alienated many of his liberal allies.

In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington - called the Poor People's Campaign.

Following his murder, there were riots in many American cities. Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison - after pleading guilty to avoid receiving the death penalty. He died in prison in 1998, when he was 70 years old.

The MLK Day holiday was first celebrated in some US cities in the early 1970s. A bill to make it a federal holiday was introduced in Congress in 1979, but it wasn't made a holiday until 1983.

In 1980 and 1981, six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law.

North Carolina's two Senators Jesse Helms and John East (both Republicans) led opposition to the holiday. Helms criticized King's opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing "action-oriented Marxism". Helms led a filibuster against the bill and on October 3, 1983, submitted a 300-page document to the Senate alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared the document a "packet of filth", threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it. The bill was passed, and while he personally objected, President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. He had to sign it--it had been approved by a veto-proof majority. It was first observed as a federal holiday in 1986.

Some states still did not observe the holiday as a state holiday. The last holdout was South Carolina which finally did away with a previous policy of allowing state employees to choose between celebrating MLK Day or one of three Confederate holidays.

Over the years, MLK Day has evolved into a 'day of service' - when Americans are encouraged to volunteer and help those less fortunate.

Local organizers told us that the theme for this year is “Clearing the Pathway Forward By Diminishing Poverty, Racial Tension And All Social Injustices.” Elsewhere, a different theme has been chosen for the day by several cities. In Oklahoma City, the theme is "The Power of One." In Houston, Texas, it's "The Color of Unity." In Pennsylvania, it's “Looking Forward, We Stand United.”

While this reporter bought a 45rpm record with Dr. King's Detroit version of the "I Have A Dream" speech (the flip side is singer Liz Lands singing "We Shall Overcome") prior to the better known speech of August 1963 in Washington, perhaps the most significant thing Dr. King wrote was his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" of April 1963.

Jailed after participating in sit-ins and demonstrations, Dr. King read an article in a smuggled in newspaper entitled "A Call for Unity": a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen against King and his methods. The letter provoked King, and he began to write a response on the margin of the newspaper itself. Later, his attorneys were allowed to give him a notepad and it was on it that he completed the letter. CLICK HERE to read what he had to say.

The celebration of MLK Day will include several events in our area.

In Lincoln County

Sunday January 14

Worship Service at 4:00 PM 
At Tucker’s Grove United Methodist Church, Highway 73 at Tucker's Grove with NC NAACP president Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman as the speaker.

Monday January 15

A Free Community Breakfast at 8:00 AM
At Providence Missionary Baptist Church, 1110 E. Pine Street in Lincolnton. The speaker will be Elder Joy McCray of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church of Waco.

Youth Program at 11:00 AM
At the Lincoln Cultural Center. Winners of the MLK Day essay contest will be presented. Lunch will be served and several young people will perform on stage.

March to the Courtsquare at 2:30 PM 
The North Lincoln High School Band will participate and the public is invited to join in the march. A short program will follow on the square.

In Gaston County

MLK Day Breakfast at 9:00 AM
At the Historic Courthouse in Dallas. NC state senator Joel Long will speak. Tickets are $10. For tickets, contact Dallas City Council member Stacy Thomas at 704-675-3684.

Unity Awards at 10:30 AM 
At the MLK Plaza in downtown Gastonia

Gaston County NAACP MLK Day Program at 3:00 PM
At the Erwin Center Gym, 913 North Pryor Street, Gastonia

In Catawba County

Among other events in Catawba County, the annual Spirit of King Community Service will be held Sunday at 3:00 PM at Morning Star First Baptist Church in Hickory. A mass choir made up local choirs will sing led by Min. of Music Zachary Martin of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church. The speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Clifford A. Jones, senior pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte. The Spirit of King Award will be presented. For more information, contact Rev. David Roberts at 704-649-7025.

In Cleveland County

In Cleveland County, the 5th annual Kingstown MLK Parade will be held at 2 PM Saturday January 20th. Those participating have been asked to dress in the colors of red, green, yellow and black. Following the parade, refreshments will be served at the Palmer Grove Baptist Church. If it rains (or snows) the parade may be cancelled, but the gathering at Palmer Grove will still be held.

Since Monday is a national holiday, there will be no mail service. Banks will be closed. City, county and state offices will be closed as will schools. There will be no garbage pickup in Lincolnton. See the city of Lincolnton ad for the schedule for the week.

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