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January 15, 2013 > Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Jessica Noel Flohr

Forty-five years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King, a Baptist preacher, civil rights leader, and advocate for non-violent protests was only 39 years old at the time of his death. Just the day before, on April 3, 1968, he gave his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, recalling Moses seeing the Promised Land, and foreshadowing that he might not make it there with his followers. "I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land," said King.

Born in Georgia 1929, King was a third generation minister. His father and grandfather had both been ministers at the Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta. After receiving his bachelor's degree in sociology from Morehouse College, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary. He completed his Ph.D. at Boston University in 1955 at the age of 25. During this time he married the young singer Coretta Scott, and became a minister at a Baptist church in Alabama. Soon after this, King entered the public arena and became a civil rights activist and advocate for African Americans.

Although slavery was abolished with the passing of the 13th amendment, this did not end racial inequality. "Jim Crow" laws were laws passed at the local level in the United States shortly after the Civil War, which remained in effect until the mid-1960s. Due to these laws, segregation was enforced in public places in the southern United States. It was illegal for African Americans to use the same entrances to facilities as whites, drink from the same drinking fountains, or sit in certain areas of restaurants or public transportation. Public schools were segregated as well.

The civil rights movement brought about an end to publically sanctioned segregation. One pivotal event was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, an African-American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Parks and King were members, took notice of this protest and began to advocate for the laws to change.

The highlight of King's involvement in the civil rights movement is seen in the historic March on Washington in 1963. The March was a massive political rally in Washington, D.C., for the advancement of civil rights for African Americans. It was at this rally that King delivered his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," in which he envisioned a nation that fully realized equality for all its citizens.

In response to the protests of the growing civil rights movement, the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the process of desegregation began. Shortly thereafter, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Sadly, this did not end the struggle for equality for African Americans. The movement itself was not fully united and more militant protest groups who felt more force was needed to bring about real change criticized King for his non-violent approach.

Though King's life and career ended abruptly, his legacy lives on. His powerful rhetoric changed our nation and advanced the cause of racial equality in the United States, though King would likely see that there is still much to be done before true equality is achieved.

In 1983, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a national holiday, meeting some resistance, but now celebrated nationwide since 2000. A Day of Service is one way that King is honored, with volunteers joining in community service projects across the nation. Each year, Newark's Afro-American Cultural & Historical Society hosts an annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year the service was led by Reverend Garrett Yamada and held on Sunday, January 13 at the First Presbyterian Church in Newark. Program Facilitator Mrs. Jean Ficklin of Afro-American Cultural & Historical Society of the Tri-Cities opened the proceedings and introduced Presiding Official Mrs. Evelyn Hooker of Palma Ceia Baptist Church of Hayward, stating, "Rosa Parks rode, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walked and President Barack Obama ran so our children can fly."

Sponsored by South Hayward Parish, a Martin Luther King, Jr. march and rally will be held on Monday, January 21. It starts at 9:30 a.m. at Hayward City Hall Plaza and features live music from a variety of groups including a Tongan youth choir from First United Methodist Church of Hayward, recited quotes from some of King's speeches, and a March of Witness. In celebration of Hayward's diversity, participants are invited to carry the banner of their organization and wear national dress.

There are many other events scheduled around the Bay Area on the holiday itself. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco will be hosting a full day of activities for all ages in honor of the 50th year of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Oakland has several events scheduled in honor of King from January 13 to 21. Opportunities for volunteers on the national Day of Service can be found at

Monday, January 21
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday March
9:30 a.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B St., Hayward
(510) 782-5795

Monday, January 21
Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebratory Event
4 p.m.
Chabot College
25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward
(510) 723-6976

Photo Caption: Program Facilitator Mrs. Jean Ficklin introduces Presiding Official Mrs. Evelyn Hooker of Palma Ceia Baptist Church of Hayward

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