King speaker recalls events of 1963
Tony Franklin, county director for the U of I Extension, told the 150 people attending this morning’s Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Holiday Breakfast that some progress has been made toward racial equality, but there is still much work to be done.
The annual event, sponsored by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, was at Bethel Baptist Church.
Franklin talked about experiences Freedom Riders had in Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., in the early ’60s as Dr. King and others tried to bring about integration through non-violent means.
He spoke of events in Birmingham in 1963.
“Birmingham was probably the most thoroughly segregated community in the U.S.,” said Franklin, who grew up in West Virginia.
During his talk, Franklin evoked the painful memories of Birmingham’s police chief Bull Connor turning dogs loose on children, while police hit the protestors with high-pressure water hoses.
“After five days, they had 2,500 prisoners filling the jails; 2,000 were children,” Franklin said. “The young people took charge. They got engaged in social justice.”
After 38 days, the Birmingham business community agreed to promote desegregation, but Gov. George Wallace said the promise was not made by the appropriate people and any progress made was shot down. The Ku Klux Klan bombed the hotel where King had stayed, although he was already gone from the city. Crowds of non-violent protestors were beaten with clubs.
“It makes me think of Rodney King, not so many years ago,” Franklin said. “These things are still going on folks.”
Recalling his youth and the hatred of African Americans shown by whites, Franklin said, “It puts a lump in my throat to think about some situations I had to endure growing up.”
He noted that Dr. King’s non-violent philosophy was “grounded in his faith. He was about love,” Franklin added, “the bottom line is about love. Love thy neighbor as yourself.”
Earlier in the program, the District 205 Singing Blue Streaks performed and Barbara King read a poem written by herself and her cancer-stricken aunt from Conway, Ark.
Stephanie Saey read the first-place essay in a contest among school children dealing with how they would have handled the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School had they been governor of Arkansas at the time. Saey said she would not have called in the National Guard to attempt to stop the “Little Rock 9” from integrating the school, “Instead, I would have called in the National Guard to protect them. ... In addition, I would have treated the Little Rock 9 with fairness and justice.”
Isaac Triplett, who served as master of ceremonies, said on this, the 40th year since Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Dr. King would look on the world of 2008 and, “I think he would say we’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to be done.”
That sentiment was echoed by Franklin.
With note cards in front of everyone in attendance, Franklin promised to involve the audience in the discussion. He said we must all begin to take part.
“So today, will you choose to be part of this or not?” Franklin asked. “It is well beyond time for Galesburg and the surrounding communities to make a commitment to form an inclusive community.
“We have one race, the human race and we need to rethink how we think about race,” he said. “Has all of King’s vision come to pass? Personally, I don’t think so. To some extent, we’ve made some progress, but there so much more to be accomplished.”