At a county celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis reminded the audience that DeKalb County just 40 years ago had been the national gathering place for the Ku Klux Klan, a group dedicated to suppressing—often through violence—the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. “Look at us now,” he said.
During the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Jan. 14-16, people commemorated the work King did for justice and freedom with speeches, music, parades, volunteer projects and more. Below is a sampling of those events.
The annual county employee celebration
County employees and people from the community crowded DeKalb County’s Maloof Auditorium at midday on Jan. 13 in an early celebration of the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Under the theme, From the Movement to the Monument, the 28th annual Employee MLK celebration had as its mistress of ceremonies 11Alive television anchor Brenda Wood and featured the music of the DeKalb County Employee Choir.
The guest speaker was the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a successor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Warnock said that it is not just African Americans, but all Americans, especially in the South, who owe a debt of gratitude to King. If racial segregation had not ended in the South, the area would not have been able to thrive, he said. “We would have no major corporations building their headquarters here. We would have no national conventions being held here. We would have no major professional sports teams calling Atlanta home.”
He said that the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers were wonderful ideals expressed in wonderful words, but he wondered whether they truly thought about what their words meant. “What if when Patrick Henry said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ one of his slaves had spoken up and said ‘me, too’? What if when Thomas Jefferson said ‘all men are created equal,’ his slaves had said, ‘me, too’?”
Warnock said that King enabled all Americans, including women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities to say, “me, too” to the promise of America. He noted that it is appropriate that the monument to King, dedicated a few months ago on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., looks out over the monuments to Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. It’s as if he’s asking them, “Did you mean what you said?”
The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project
From Saturday morning through Monday afternoon on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, the Community Center of South Decatur, more commonly called the Solarium, teemed with activity as groups and individuals came to register and receive assignments in what has become one of the area’s most successful volunteer efforts. Sponsored by the Decatur Preservation Alliance in partnership with the City of Decatur, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project provides house maintenance and repair, free of charge, to low-income Decatur senior citizen homeowners.
Now in its 10th year, the project attracts groups from churches and community organizations as well as individuals who want to make the holiday “a day on, not a day off.”
Molly Nuttall, in her seventh year as a volunteer and her third year as house captain, this year worked with a group that included volunteers from her church, North Decatur United Methodist. “We’ve had about 50 people from the church so far,” she said on Saturday. “I think we’ll have at least 15 more before the weekend’s over.” The group included her daughter Mary Elizabeth, who brought along some friends from Decatur High School.
They worked on a house on South McDonough—all eligible homes must be within the city limits of Decatur—that belongs to Otis Fletcher, a man in his 80s. “This is just wonderful,” Fletcher said as he watched volunteers replace window panes, repair the porch and dig up a stump in the backyard along with a number of other projects. The home was one of 12 selected this year for major repairs. Eight others received minor repairs and maintenance and an additional 50 properties were chosen for cleanup and maintenance.
A Decatur company had replaced the home’s faulty heating and air conditioning system at no charge earlier that week. “They told us the old system was leaking carbon monoxide,” said Fletcher’s daughter Antoinette Tucker, who lives with her father. “This certainly has been a great help to us.”
DeKalb NAACP’s 10th annual MLK Parade and Peace Rally
Hundreds lined the streets of downtown Stone Mountain for the DeKalb NAACP’s 10th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade and Peace Rally.
The parade featured performances by DeKalb County School System high school marching bands from Martin Luther King Jr., Stone Mountain, McNair, Clarkston and Cedar Grove high schools.
Congressman Hank Johnson and several DeKalb County School board members also had floats in the parade. Immediately afterward a peace rally was held in the Champion Middle School gymnasium.