Marching on an ‘extra special’ MLK Day

Downtown Durham unity marchers continue King’s legacy
Jan. 21, 2013 @ 05:31 PM

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March and Rally Monday in downtown Durham took on extra meaning for some participants.

Indeed, 2013 marks several milestones in civil rights history. It is the 30th anniversary of MLK Day as a federal holiday; 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; and 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Also, as several marchers noted, Monday was the second inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Roger McDougal, president of the Beta Theta Lambda alumni chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, King’s fraternity, helped carry a banner in the march that brought out several hundred people on a clear morning.

“Dr. King was our beloved fraternity brother and we want to remain active in keeping his dream alive,” McDougal said. “This is a special, special MLK Day because it’s the second inauguration of President Obama. His presidency, and especially the second inauguration, is such a realization of King’s dream. It makes this extra special,” he said.

As several hundred marchers gathered in front of the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance building on West Chapel Hill Street, Rev. Cornelius Battle gave a prayer of thanks for those gathered “as we march for justice, as we march for social action, as we march for the legacy of Dr. King.”

The marchers sang Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” as they marched down Chapel Hill Street through downtown, turned on Liberty Street and ended at First Presbyterian Church on Main Street. The theme of this year’s MLK events planned by the Durham MLK Steering Committee was “Liberation Through Learning: Education and the Future of our Youth.”

Many marchers were church youth groups, including First Calvary Baptist. Other marchers brought children in strollers. TROSA residents were there, as well as clergy and local politicians.

Rev. Warren Herndon, who has organized the annual march for a quarter-century, said they involved youth more this year to pass the baton to the next generation.

“We live in a divided world today – economically, racially and religiously,” Herndon said. “King’s call of loving thy neighbor -- we’re going to have to teach that and practice that on a daily basis. With all the violence going on, we’re going to have to become better protectors of our young people and our families, and become our brothers and sisters’ keepers.”

City employee Max Davis helped carry a banner for UE Local 150, the North Carolina public service workers union. Last year, Davis, who is president of 150, marched in Raleigh. This year he chose Durham, where he lives and where he works in the Durham solid waste department.

“I want to do anything that honors the legacy of Dr. King and work for social justice around the world,” he said. A city employee for 24 years, he said he and the union want collective bargaining.

Davis said it would have been great if Monday’s march were larger, but he thought it was nice to see people from all walks of life come together.

As the march turned the corner for its last block before prayers by clergy and songs by the Durham Children’s Choir at First Presbyterian, Marlow Kerr pointed out that with all the young people marching, he didn’t see them wearing headphones. That’s a sign they’re involved, he said. Kerr’s three children came to march with him. Daughter Calise Kerr, 10, said she didn’t want to walk at first, but has learned that civil rights marchers marched before her for freedom.

Marlow Kerr said he wants his children to understand the struggles that so many people went through to get to today. As a N.C. Central University student in the early 1980s, he marched to support making MLK Day a national holiday. Even then, people took for granted what others did before them, he said. Like King’s last campaign, for economic justice, Kerr said, economics is again worth fighting for.

Gloria Lee Arrington said she came to the march with purpose.

“It’s an honor to celebrate 50 years [since the March on Washington], and an honor to have our president inaugurated on this day,” Arrington said. “It’s a blessing for this year. Thank God for this day.”