Honoring Dr. King: A Call To Rekindle The Dream
By Chris Levister –
“When ‘Uncle Martin’ died in 1968," Donzaleigh Abernathy said of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, "all my father had was prayer, because it made him feel safe.”
Donzaleigh Abernathy, is the daughter of Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, the late civil rights leader and co-founder of the Southern Christ ian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
“The man we called ‘Uncle Martin’ and my father were inseparable best friends,” Donzaleigh told a packed audience gathered in San Bernardino for the 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast.
“We were family. Martin was a gentle man” recalled Ms. Abernathy, an award winning actress and author. “He taught God’s love and forgiveness as well as the importance of serving others, by example.”
In what San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris called “a graduate course in civil rights history,” Ms. Abernathy accompanied by a slide show of rare and intimate photographs told a compelling and inspirational story of growing up as an eyewitness to the horrors of segregation and racism that ruled America’s South.
During 1956 Abernathy and King had been in and out of jail and court as a result of their efforts to end the practice of separating people based on their race on buses.
On January 10, 1957, their Alabama homes and churches were bombed by the Ku Klux Klan after the two ministers led the Montgomery bus boycott touched off when Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a White bus rider. Juanita Abernathy, was pregnant with Donzaleigh.
“My mother and my sister ran from our home screaming narrowly escaping the blast. My father and Martin were away in Atlanta.”
Ms. Abernathy recalled in the spring of 1963 SCLC leaders began to plan their efforts to desegregate facilities in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Pol ice using fire hoses and attack dogs against African American demonstrators directed the eyes of the world to that city's civil rights protest,” she recalled.
Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King went to prison, while more than three thousand other African Americans in the city also endured periods of time in jail while working for equal rights.
Images and piercing recounts of boycotts, protests, freedom rides, marches, bombings, and murders flashed across the room’s large screen leaving many in the audience speechless and numb.
On September 15th, 1963, a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
The ground floor of the church collapsed. A Sunday school session was in progress and four children were in the church basement bathroom preparing for the service. All four girls age 14, dressed in white died of blunt trauma.
Many others were injured, she said.
“I was so traumatized, that for a long time, I would urinate on myself. I was afraid to go to the bathroom,” her revelation brought gasps and calls to “teach” from the audience.
Ms. Abernathy recalled violence against the black community in Birmingham was not unusual but the deliberate bombing of a church took that violence to a higher level.
The breakfast crowd erupted in applause when she explained that the turbulent struggle for racial equality was also forged by brave white men and women incensed by the bombings and ‘stench of racism’.
“Glenn Smiley, a white man, taught my father and ‘Uncle Martin’ the principles of non-violence,” she said pointing to photographs of Smiley accompanying Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy during a bus boycott. The rare photos were published by Donzaleigh Abernathy in her 2004 book “Partners in History: Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and the Civil Rights Movement.”
The Birmingham demonstrations were successful. After the protests, desegregation programs began in over 250 southern cities.
Thousands of schools, parks, pools, restaurants, and hotels were opened to all people, regardless of their race.
“Whi tes, Blacks and Browns fought shoulder to shoulder,” said Ms. Abernathy. “People of all backgrounds traveled from every corner in America. We ate together, marched together, cried together and died together.”
Martin Luther King was assassinated at a Memphis hotel in 1968.
“He died in my father’s arms.”
“Today minorities are fighting each other. Still others who claim they want to regain their country are fighting to keep America divided.”
She exhorted her listeners to actively use their rights, especially the right to vote. “You have the right to vote or not to vote,” she said. “It is your right, but let me tell you, it was purchased at a high price.”
“I call on each of you to take up the mantle and rekindle the dream. Freedom cannot ring for us if it does not ring for our children. Freedom cannot ring for African Americans if it does not ring for all Americans.”
The breakfast event was a moving moment for the overflow crowd of Christians, Muslims, Jews and others swaying back and forth arm in arm singing the Black National Anthem, ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.
“It shows the consciousness of this community that you are here,” said IECAAC president, Pastor Phillip Powell.
The IECAAC recognized five community leaders for their outreach and public service.
Honorees included Dr. Lewis King, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, San Bernardino City Manager, Charles McNeely, Gwendolyn Heard CFS Volunteer Coordinator, Ernest Dowdy, City of San Bernardino Director of SBETA, Ernest Levister, M.D., J.W. Vines Medical Society, Rev. Samuel Casey Executive Director, COPE, (Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement) and Acquanet ta Warren, First Black Major of the City of Fontana.
IECAAC Breakfast Committee Chairperson, Beverly Jones Wright applauded the honorees and capacity crowd at the Hilton Hotel.
“We’ve all come together in honor of this wonderful man. He gave us a model of what to do. We wholeheartedly believe that with God nothing is impossible to achieve.”
The early Monday morning celebration kicked off a day of activities throughout the region including walk-a-thons, prayer vigils, musical events, and tributes staged at the King monuments in San Bernardino and Riverside.
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