'Something to be proud of': Chattanooga celebrates Martin Luther King's legacy

'Something to be proud of': Chattanooga celebrates Martin Luther King's legacy

January 21st, 2014 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

People walk past a mural of Martin Luther King, Jr., as they march along the street named in his honor in downtown Chattanooga on Monday afternoon.The march led from the Tivoli Theatre to the Olivet Missionary Baptist Church where the Unity Group presented "Focus 2020 - The True State of the Dream".

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

Southern Adventist Uni-versity students Megan Keller, left, and Marissa Montgomery volunteer with others at the Cham-bliss Center For Children in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Southern Adventist Uni-versity students Megan Keller, left, and...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

What took so long?

It was Aug. 28, 1963, at the March on Washington when civil rights giant Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, saying he came to the nation's capital to cash in on the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness set forth in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

But the idea for the march had been conceived in the 1940s by influential activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, said former state Rep. Dr. Tommie Brown.

So what took King and the civil rights leaders of the day so long to get there, Brown asked the hundreds of people in the audience at the Unity Group's 44th annual M.L. King celebration.

Then Brown, keynote speaker at the Unity event, answered her own question.

Most people understood the importance of having a dream, Brown said, but it took longer to learn the lesson of organizing to achieve power.

Today, the need is still there, Brown said.

"We have got to come together," she said.

The M.L. King celebration at Olivet Missionary Baptist Church was among events held across the nation in recognition of King's nonviolent struggle for equality. Other events also were held here in honor of the slain civil rights icon.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was honored at McCallie School with a presentation by Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi. King patterned his stance on nonviolence after Mahatma Gandhi's beliefs.

Students from other local schools did community service events Monday with the theme of having a Day On and Not a Day Off to honor King's legacy.

Members of the Chattanooga Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga and artist Alex Loza were among more than 100 volunteers who helped paint the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy gym. Students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and students from CGLA and their families also participated.

Frankie Hartman, 62, was among hundreds of people participating in the M.L. King Day parade from the Tivoli Theatre to Olivet Missionary Baptist Church.

"I'm here to celebrate my legacy," she said. "I've been snatched off the bus at age 7 because I sat in the wrong seat. I went through that black-and-white war, and I have something to be proud of."

Former state Rep. Tommie Brown speaks at Olivet Baptist Church Monday following a Monday march through downtown Chattanooga in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Former state Rep. Tommie Brown speaks at Olivet...

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

Eight-year-old Zikeria Johnson marched with her drawing of King surrounded with red hearts.

"He died so that now when I get older I can vote and sit at the table with black and white people with nobody judging me," she said.

Franklin McCallie marched near the back of the parade carrying a handmade sign that read "Chattanooga Grasp the Dream."

He said there has been progress, but it's obvious that King's dream is still not reality.

"Dr. King had a dream that all of us would get together and live out the meaning of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence," said McCallie. "We were on our way to that dream in the 1960s; the problem is we've slowed down on that dream. We're not meeting that dream in employment, in education."

As Brown spoke she asked for volunteers to hold nearly a dozen signs demanding full employment, an end to police brutality and an end to racial discrimination. Every 10 minutes a new group of people came to hold the signs, but during the March on Washington people stood with signs all day, she said.

Brown said part of the challenge is getting people on the same page, and she challenged organizations to join together in their efforts and to organize in such a way that all people can be heard.

"For 44 years we keep coming and celebrating the dream," she said to the audience. "What is taking us so long?"

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.