By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore’s observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday ended Monday, January 20, with a memorial program that shifted between remembering King’s attempts to gain racial equality for people of color, to the slain Civil Rights icon’s dream of a “Beloved Community.”
The ceremony, held at Emmanuel Faith Center, featured the standard pomp and circumstance. A cadre of cadets from Northview High School’s Navy JROTC program, under the direction of Capt. Charlie Code, presented the colors, and a trio of singers from the host church, accompanied on keyboards and drums, got the crowd of about 70 people stirring with a strong rendition of “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me.”
The Rev. Alfonza Williams read from the Scriptures, and Elder Ledell Johnson Jr. provided the invocation. A voter registration effort was being conducted in the lobby of the Ridgeley Street church.
Before Dr. James Averhart, the event’s keynote speaker, addressed the gathering, the crowd joined in “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and Pastor James Crook of Old Ship Baptist Church reflected on a speech MLK delivered during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Averhart, who is running in the March 3 Democratic Party for the Alabama 1st District Congressional seat incumbent Bradley Byrne is ceding, combined his tribute to King with a speech that was dripping with political rhetoric.
“One cannot speak about King’s vision for a beloved community without speaking of the Civil Rights Movement, racism, violence, adversity, despondency and what King would call a nation with a neurotic sickness,” he said. “As we reflect on what it takes to make a beloved community, let us keep faith in the memory of Dr. King and rise to the challenges of our time.”
He then discussed various planks in the Democratic Party platform and enumerated several problems that must be addressed at the federal level. He did encourage the crowd to follow in King’s footsteps by speaking out about injustice.
“Our silence has been taken as consent,” he said. “You do not have the right to remain silent. We need to hold our elected officials responsible; you do not have the right to remain silent.”
He repeated the play on the text of the Miranda warning, read to criminal suspects when they are arrested, after each of the problems he listed.
He closed with another admonishment that complacency has no place in the fight for justice and equality.
“We celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by remembering him as a man of non-violence, a man of determination,” he said. “Although America has made significant progress over the years, I say to you today, 56 years after the speech, we still face pivotal days ahead. You don’t have the right to remain silent.”
Concerned Citizens of Atmore President Russell Robinson echoed that, “It takes all of us to make this happen. We don’t have the right to remain silent. We have got to use our voices, and the loudest voice is at the ballot box.”
Members of Neighborhood Garden Club announced the float winners from the MLK Day parade that preceded the memorial program. Full Life Ministries took first prize; Empowerment Ministries was second, and Gaines Chapel AME Church was third.
A certificate of appreciation was presented to John L. Frye, son of the late Bobby L. Frye, honoring his father’s work on behalf of CCOA, Emmanuel’s Jamel Frye delivered the benediction, and those in attendance were treated to pulled pork and turkey, chicken tenders, baked beans, macaroni salad and more, prepared and served free by Rainbows for Kids.