Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

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by Donald H. Whitely – 

Dr. King was honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964. He was the youngest man to ever receive the award at the age of 35.

On April 4, 1968, my sister Tina and I had just started doing our homework in our family’s second floor, five-room apartment. My sister was in her room, and I was sitting at the kitchen table when shortly after 6 p.m. we heard our aunt scream from her first-floor apartment, “Martin Luther King, Jr. was just shot and killed in Memphis.” While continuing to scream as she approached the foot of the steps leading to our apartment, I heard my mother crying as if she had lost someone very dear. It was my father’s bowling night, so he was not at home to comfort her. Never seeing my mother cry before, I too, started to cry with her. I can’t imagine the emotional pain she and so many who fought for civil rights felt that evening.

What my sister and I knew about Dr. King, we learned from our parents. I had just turned 13; and in those days, Black History wasn’t taught in schools, at least not in the Tarrytown school system. Therefore, it was my parent’s responsibility to educate us about civil rights and the leaders of our time. I knew how much Dr. King meant to my parents and what he stood for. Our parents taught us that Dr. King was a man of God who fought for civil rights. He was proclaimed the leader of the civil rights movement that benefited African-Americans but also had claimed the lives of so many along the long and tested journey seeking equality. Dr. King preached nonviolence when protesting and fought for the injustices of all people and of all races. So, yes, I remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you?

Several of Dr. King’s Achievements

In 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, Dr. King led a protest against the Montgomery, Alabama bus system which lasted over a year. This was a political and social protest against racial segregation, and later led to a Supreme Court ruling that dubbed segregated buses unconstitutional.

In 1957, Dr. King was elected the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. SCLC was formed to support nonviolent protests for equality such as mass protest campaigns and voter registration drives.

In the spring of 1963, SCLC’s effort to end civil and discriminatory segregation in Birmingham, Alabama failed; however, Dr. King and the SCLC started “Project C” which was a series of sit-ins and marches. As a result, police brutality ensued upon the protestors, but the efforts ended Jim Crow laws, and public businesses and restaurants became more open to Black patrons. And in August of 1963, perhaps Dr. King’s most memorable achievement was when he led more than 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial to give his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that called for an end to racism. The speech influenced the passing of the Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, sex or national origin.

Dr. King was honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964. He was the youngest man to ever receive the award at the age of 35. The money he received for the award was used to help the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement.

However, on that Thursday evening in April 1968, I was not only saddened but educated as well. Even though I didn’t experience racism and discrimination as much as some of my closest friends who grew up in the south, it certainly did exist. And today, our society could use someone as influential, inspirational and with the leadership qualities as the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

An individual who knows what injustice looks like and has also experienced it. Someone who will bring this country together and not divide us with rhetoric and lies. We need an individual who would sacrifice for others to prosper. We can only hope that today’s young leaders study the qualities possessed by the late Dr. King, and use those qualities to help lead this society to a much better place.

We all can remember Dr. King by attending a breakfast hosted by the Foster Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church Steward Board on Saturday, January 13. It’s an All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The donation is $15. Then on Monday, January 15, the church will celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. featuring a special service presentation. Minister Judith Williams, of the Shiloh Baptist Church, Tarrytown will be the guest speaker. The program begins at noon; it’s free and all are welcome. Foster Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church is located at 90 Wildey Street in Tarrytown.

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