King's electoral legacy
Published: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 12:26 a.m.
If there is one legacy for which Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered, it may be his passion to give African-Americans the right to vote unencumbered.
The Gainesville/Alachua County commemorative celebration to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues through February. The theme this year is "Justice for All.''
NATIONAL HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES
Press Conference, 11:30 a.m., MLK Jr. Memorial Gardens, downtown Gainesville. Contact: Rodney Long, (352) 376-2442.
Kick-Off Program, noon, Downtown Community Plaza, with speaker, LeNonar Elaina Walton, recipient of the 2008 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award. Contact: Dorcas "Candy" Ramseur, (352) 514-1275.
Hall of Fame Memorial Tribute, 12:45 p.m., MLK Jr. Memorial Gardens. Contact: Joel Buchanan, (352) 392-9075.
Annual Commemorative March, 1 p.m. MLK Memorial Gardens, downtown Gainesville to MLK Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 NE 14th St. Contact: Diyonne McGraw, (352) 246-1739.
Gospel Program, 2 p.m., MLK Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 NE 14th St., featuring national recording gospel artist Beverly Camps-Crawford. Contact: Janice Nix Crews, (352) 380-9119.
Coretta Scott King Observance Program, 7 p.m., Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, 718 SE 11th St. (Waldo Road) with speaker Vanessa Douyon, membership vice president, Florida Cicerones/SAAUF. Contact: Marie D. Small, (352) 335-0572.
Ebony Fashion Show, 8 p.m., Lincoln Middle School, 1001 SE 12th St. Tickets: $25. Contact: Verna Johnson, (352) 372-1004.
Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: "Pampering the Brothers Health Forum, Part II," 7 p.m. Alachua Co. Health Department auditorium, 228 SE 24th St. with facilitator, Cynthia Moore Chestnut. Contact: Marie D. Small, (352) 335-0572.
Centennial Celebration, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., 11:30 a.m. Paramount Plaza Hotel and Suites, 2900 SW 13th St. Tickets: $25. Contact: Yvonne C. Rawls, (352) 372-0246.
POST-KING WEEK EVENTS
Gainesville Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Founders Day Celebration, 11 a.m., Fort Clarke Missionary Baptist Church, 9121 NW 8th Ave. Contact: Yvonne Hughes, (352) 332-2967 or Barbara Henry, (352) 332-1024.
Women In Religion, 9 a.m., Hilton University of Florida Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th St. Tickets: $30. Contact: Sarah Richardson, (352) 378-7928.
"Out of the Past," 4 p.m., Springhill Baptist Church, 120 SE Williston Road.
Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet, 3 p.m. Place: TBA Contact: Bernadette Woody, (352) 337-0720.
So local officials can't help but be awed at the coincidence this year - 40 years since King's death - as Floridians not only have the chance to vote on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Democratic voters also have the chance to vote for an African-American and a woman for the first time in presidential election history.
"What tribute can you give to Dr. King other than casting the ballot on his MLK Day?" asked Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long.
The Gainesville-based Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida, of which Long is president, plans to rally voters today in an effort to get at least 700 people to cast their ballots during the early voting period for the presidential preference primary. Officials with the King Commission see the opportunity to vote on King's holiday as too good to pass up, and one that may not come again since it was only this year that Florida decided to hold its primary a couple months early, angering many in the national party committees.
"Probably only once in our lifetime will we have this opportunity," Long said. "If we're able to (get 700 people to vote), all of the other commemorative activities will just be gravy." The King Commission has been holding various programs for the past week in anticipation of the national holiday today, with the culmination of events being a commemorative march at 1 p.m. today and a gospel program at 2 p.m. And the activities don't end there, with events stretching into February with topics including Coretta Scott King and health and wellness.
But it is on this day that officials will sit back and reflect on the past 40 years, and just how far the country has come since King's death.
"When you look at it for us here locally, 40 years is not that long ago," Long said. "I was a part of that 40-year transition, from a middle-schooler to a full adult."
Former state Rep. Ed Jennings Jr. said the past 40 years have paved the way for him to accomplish what he has.
"Everything that those who fought before, I am a legatee of that process," Jennings said. "Every opportunity I've had - to go to integrated schools, the opportunity to run for office - all those things for me come out of that movement."
Jennings said he is excited for the opportunity to cast his vote today, and said today is a day to remember that voting was a privilege African-Americans didn't fully enjoy until the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
"Now everyone walks in the same place, in the front door, and with your voter registration card and your ID, you can vote," he said. "It takes days like this for people to remember, not too long ago, you couldn't. For everyone to exercise that right on the day we celebrate (King's) birth, what else could you ask for? I'm just ecstatic that the stars lined up this year."
Both Jennings and Long point to this year's election, and to the ballot that contains the names of an African-American and a woman for the first time, as undeniable proof that King's legacy is still at work.
"To even be having that conversation is extraordinary," Jennings said, noting that he expects the Republican Party may follow suit this year by choosing either a woman or an African-American as a vice presidential running mate for the man who wins the presidential nomination.
"It is wonderful," he said of this year's presidential race.
As local officials have addressed this year's King Day celebration, the topic of the low graduation rates among African-Americans in Alachua County has been raised repeatedly.
Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan addressed the issue during the King Celebration 2008 kickoff program on Tuesday, and Jennings pointed out that it was one of the key issues in King's time, punctuated by the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that desegregated schools.
"It all started, at least in modern history, with education," he said. "And 53 years later, we're still dealing with the issue of education and a system of education that is not producing the impact that they hoped for 40 years ago."
Long, who has been a longtime proponent of the revitalization of east Gainesville, points to the disparities in the Alachua County school system as one of the reasons growth on the east side is so slow. Because most of the attention is being given to west side schools where the new, middle-class development is, east side schools are left under-enrolled.
"When you look at where we came from, we have basically returned to re-segregated schools, which is the opposite of everything we fought for," Long said. "What you've created, almost, is a tale of two cities. The eastern schools are the ones that still have capacity."
As part of the King Celebration 2008 activities, a charette was held Saturday about the education crisis, and Long said he hopes it clears the way for honest, important discussions about education in the area.
"That to me is the most significant because it's the beginning of something," he said. "It doesn't end (Saturday). That activity is probably going to be the activity that's going to cause us to have a follow-up and a sit-down dialogue."
Alice Wallace can be reached at 352-338-3109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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