King’s ‘legacy continuing on’
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national holiday, but it’s also something more to those who use the day off as a call to action. Hundreds marched in the Durham MLK Day March and Rally downtown Monday morning.
“I came today because Martin Luther King’s birthday is a very special holiday in my family,” said Najee Reams, 15. They participate in the march every year, he said. Najee said that King, who would have just turned 85 if he were still alive, “would be proud his legacy is continuing on.”
Dozens of youth joined the march that started at the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance building on West Chapel Hill Street. The march was organized by the Durham Community Martin Luther King Jr. Steering Committee. The theme was “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere,” a quote from King.
“This is Dr. King’s day – it’s all about love; it’s all about community,” said organizer Rev. Warren Herndon, who urged marchers to introduce themselves to their fellow marchers. The crowd included those with grey hair and canes along with toddlers clutching their mothers’ hands. Religious and community leaders were there, as were King’s fraternity brothers, Alpha Phi Alpha, who carried a banner. First Calvary Baptist Church members came together after a lock-in the previous night. Men in the TROSA program marched, too, and elected officials.
N.C. Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., whose parents led the fight to desegregate Durham Public Schools in the 1950s, said he thanked young people in particular for coming.
“We’ve come a long way,” McKissick said, “but we haven’t come far enough.” He also said that everyone knows King didn’t want anyone discriminated because of their color or religion, “and today we add sexual orientation.”
N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard quoted King’s well-known statement about the arc of the moral universe being long and bending toward justice.
“Some of us are going to have to reach up and bend that arc forward,” Woodard said, and urged the crowd to work together to do so.
Five Durham Police Department motorcycles cleared one lane of West Chapel Hill Street as the marchers filled the other lane, down the hill toward the center of downtown as it turned into East Chapel Hill Street. A few people on the sidewalks outside stores waved and took photos of the march. Marchers intermittently sang “We Shall Overcome,” “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.”
Candice Leathers, who was born and raised in Durham, came to her first MLK march on Monday. Her niece, who attended with the Mt. Calvary youth, told her about it. Leathers brought her sons Cameron, 2, and Michael, 6, “just so they can know what a great man [King] was, so they can stand for something and not fall for anything.”
Cameron knew what to do, saying, “March, march, march,” as they walked down the street. Leathers said she wanted to show her support, and noted the large turnout.
Herndon, who serves on the Durham MLK committee, said the day brought an excitement in the air, hope, being thankful and a humble experience for all “races and ethnicities to honor a humanitarian, a Nobel Prize winner who gave his life for what the Bible says, ‘To love thy neighbor.’”
Mikali Smith and Tavia Hawley, both 13, before the march attended the First Calvary lock-in, where activities included talking about what they would ask King if they had a chance to interview him.
Tavia said she would have asked if he thought there would be a day for him.
“I don’t think he would have seen it coming,” she said.
Mikali said participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march was inspiring.
“I’m going to keep coming back to the walks because what he did was good and we should keep celebrating him,” she said.
As the march ended at First Presbyterian Church, most participants went inside for a service including words from U.S. Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, and prayers from local clergy and organizers. The Durham Children’s Choir performed. Together, the congregation sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to start the service, ending it with “We Shall Overcome,” as everyone held hands.