Weekend Activities Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. - TribPapers

Weekend Activities Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo by Unseen Histories.

Asheville – Throughout Western North Carolina, celebrations were held to honor the legacy and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many events are held every year here in Asheville and neighboring towns before and after the federal holiday honoring him.

On Saturday, January 14th, the 42nd Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast was held at the Crowne Plaza Event Center to well over 1,100 attendees. The theme was “Audacious Action in Uncertain Times.” The keynote speakers were Andrew Aykin, an author and activist who worked with civil rights leader John Lewis, and Preston Blakely, the mayor of Fletcher. Sunday evening, a candlelight service to honor area citizens and organizations that have dedicated themselves to the cause of social justice was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Asheville. Monday morning, a peace march and rally were held with many participants, starting at St. James AME Church and ending at Pack Square Park.

Rev Brent La Prince Edwards, Pastor, speaking at St. James AME church prior to the rally preceding the march to Pack Square on January 16. Photo courtesy of The Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, Inc.
Rev Brent La Prince Edwards, Pastor, speaking at St. James AME church prior to the rally preceding the march to Pack Square on January 16. Photo courtesy of The Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, Inc.

The University of North Carolina at Asheville had Clint Smith give a commemorative address on Wednesday, January 18th. He is a staff writer for The Atlantic magazine and author of the award-winning nonfiction bestselling book “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America.”

Henderson County hosted MLK events as well. In fact, the Black History Collective of Henderson County is honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the entire month of January with exhibits and displays. At Blue Ridge Community College, a Dr. MLK Breakfast was held.
The keynote speaker, James E. Ford, executive director of the Center for Racial Equality in Education, spoke about “life’s most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?”

Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa kicked off their beloved community lecture series on January 16th with the keynote speaker, DeWayne Barton, the founder and CEO of Hood Huggers International. Barton has pursued the vision of “Rebuilding Affrilachia” projects in and around Asheville, NC. Affrilachia refers to African Americans living in Appalachia. Hood Huggers International asserts that Affrilachia is “an ever-evolving cultural landscape poised to render the invisible visible and contains a population that needs and deserves economic investment to ensure its visibility and thriving future.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast

This year’s Prayer Breakfast was “sold out” many days ahead of time, with over 1,100 people in attendance on Saturday, January 14th. It was organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe, a private nonprofit organization with Dr. Oralene Anderson Graves Simmons as chair and Jonathan McCoy as vice chair. Years ago, in 1982, the first breakfast was a small event held at the Montford Community Center, organized and started by Dr. Simmons with a handful of friends. Since then, it has grown considerably and moved to many places, including the Asheville Civic Center, The Grove Park Inn & Resort, and now the Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts.

This year’s first keynote speaker was Andrew Aydin, who spent more than thirteen years on the staff of Congressman John Lewis as Digital Director and Policy Advisor and his campaign communication director. He is passionately interested in comic books and uses that as a medium for his messages on nonviolent civil disobedience. Preston Blakely, the young mayor of Fletcher—in fact, at the age of 28, the youngest mayor in North Carolina—spoke about the need to “continue to fight for justice and peace.” “It will take every single person in this room” to reach that goal, but “we must continue to fight and strive for the beloved community so dear to Dr. King, John Lewis, and his grandmother, Dr. Oralene Graves Simmons.”

Commemorative Candlelight Service

Trinity Church in downtown Asheville was beautifully lit with candles throughout, piano music, and singing by Dr. Joseph Fox.  Memories of the past were shared by the speakers, including the Candlelight Service Chair, Dr. Elizabeth Colton, as well as the keynote speaker, James E. Ferguson II, who now lives in Charlotte as a renowned trial attorney there. He remembers Asheville well, having grown up on Blanton Street and then having graduated from Stephens Lee High School in 1960. He was the first president of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality (ASCORE) in 1960. He remembers how very segregated the city of Asheville was—in housing and employment. “Black was black, and white was white.” “All bus drivers were white; every single garbage collector was white.” “I mention this because to know where you are now, you need to find out where you were once.” When he thinks of this, Dr. Ferguson thinks there is a lot to be proud of and wants us to continue to grow. Audacious steps were taken to have this change take place. He “rejoices in the changes he sees that have taken place,” and he thanks all who contributed to making them so.

Clint Smith noted author and scholar spoke at UNC-A. Photo submitted.
Clint Smith noted author and scholar spoke at UNC-A. Photo submitted.

MLK Community Service Awards were then given by Dr. Oralene Simmons at Trinity. Darryl Cannady, Andrea Clark, Ron Katz, Deborah Miles, William E. Roland (posthumously), James R. Stokely, and a group award for six attorneys—Jason Gast, Carol Goins, Reid Gonella, Tim Tyson, Diane Walton, and Terry Young—all received awards. These six attorneys hold contracts with North Carolina Indigent Defense Services to represent respondent parents in child abuse, neglect, and dependency proceedings in the 28th judicial district (Buncombe County).

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This 39-year-old civil rights leader was fatally shot in 1968 in Memphis, but his philosophy of nonviolence in the search for justice, equality, and peace lives on today. In 1963, he gave his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King was a compelling public speaker, motivating both black and white citizens with his passionate brand of public speaking. He called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. On March 7, 1965, when then-25-year-old activist John Lewis led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, he faced brutal attacks by oncoming state troopers. This became known as Blood Sunday.  Footage of the violence collectively shocked the nation and galvanized the fight against racial injustice. This march became a historic landmark in the American civil rights movement. It raised awareness of the difficulties faced by black voters and the need for a national Voting Rights Act.