Our civil rights legacy lives on thanks to MLK holiday

By Maria Saporta

How lucky we are to live in Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.

This point hits home every year during the King birthday holiday weekend, and this year has been no exception.

This past Saturday Jan. 15, on King’s actual birthday, the first annual Civil Rights film festival was launched at the King Center.

The documentaries were produced by Andrew Young Presents and featured our own Andrew Young, our former mayor, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Civil Rights leader who worked by King’s side during the movement. Remember what I said about how lucky we were?

The first film of the day was: In the Footsteps of Gandhi, which reminded us how much the Mahatma Gandhi influenced King’s philosophy of social change through nonviolent civil unrest.

On Feb. 10, 1959, King and his wife, Coretta, arrived in New Delhi, India on a “four-week pilgrimage in India, which to me means Mahatma Gandhi,” King said at the time.

(Gandhi had been assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, but his teachings lived on in King, who himself was assassinated on April 4, 1968).

Then, 50 years later, Martin Luther King III, accompanied by his wife, Arndrea, returned to India to retrace his parents footsteps.

The film does a marvelous job of weaving the past and the present with the message as relevant today as they were more than five decades ago.

After Saturday’s screening of the In the Footsteps of Gandhi film, King III told the audience that his father would have turned 82 on that day had he lived.

“A lot comes to mind as we approach this period of observance,” said King III, who refrained from calling it a celebration. “We celebrated in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Holiday bill. The first holiday was in 1986. But we in Atlanta the first year we honored him was in 1969.”

King III then spoke about the “triple evils” identified by his father: “poverty, racism and violence” — triple evils that still exist today.

“The area of race is where we have made the most strides,” King III said, referring to the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president.

“When you look at the area of poverty, with 45 million people living in poverty in United States, we still have a ways to go,” he added. “And the numbers are growing. There will be more foreclosures. There will be some more job losses before this economy begins to revive. We have got to find a way to address the crisis of poverty in America.”

And violence is still prevalent, as witnessed by the shootings in Arizona only a week before. “What that tragic incident did was hopefully awaken an awareness in the minds of Americans,” King III said. “We have got to try to find a true way to learn the philosophy of nonviolence and embrace it.”

Then he spoke of his recent trip to India with a Congressional delegation to honor his parents’ trip 50 years earlier and how much that experience moved both he and his wife.

They were particularly moved by the Indian women they met and “how gracefully they navigated through what we would define as deplorable circumstances.”

In the question and answer portion, King III was asked what were some unknown characteristics or stories of his father.

“We always saw Martin Luther King Jr. as a very serious person,” King III said. “And yes, he had a serious message. But there was a side of him that was incredibly funny. The public very rarely saw the humorous side.”

And that’s why we’re lucky to live in Atlanta — where moments of the movement continue to live on — day after day, year after year.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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