Area to honor civil rights leader

Published 12:54 am Sunday, January 20, 2008

NATCHEZ — Forty years ago this April, America’s most famous civil rights leader was assassinated, and this Monday locals will gather to celebrate his life and message.

He preached non-violence, has streets in almost every city in America named after him, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is recognized by the U.S. government as a national holiday.

But Natchezian Lynda Williams, who is involved with the annual NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, said a lot of younger folks may just see King as a historical figure.

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“I really think now in the 21st century, not all but a lot of our young folks don’t really know the background of Dr. King,” Williams said. “Their parents aren’t teaching them like my mom taught me so I don’t think they really have an understanding of his dream.”

That is why the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture will have a luncheon with a program geared toward educating youth about King’s values and for what he stood.

Growing up during the civil rights era was hard for black children, and so when King offered a vision of a better life, Juanita Jones with the NAPAC museum said she didn’t hesitate to join him in picket lines and marches.

“Our youths today did not experience the civil rights struggle first hand,” Jones said. “We do not want them to forget those who did.”

Because of the sacrifices of King and many others, they can attend the best schools and colleges, live in beautiful homes, work at great jobs and enjoy many other facets of life that were not accessible to blacks during King’s early life, Jones said.

“Dr. King brought about a lot of change, not only for blacks, and he opened a lot of doors that were not open before,” Williams said.

Jones agreed.

“Even though he is dead, his dream did not die. His dream lives on in every child who completes his education and works to be the best that he can be,” she said.

NAPAC board member Flora Terrell said the luncheon will have an open forum in which young people will be allowed to showcase their talents, whether through singing, dancing, music or speeches.

“When children are allowed to express themselves in a positive manner, it helps to build their self-esteem as well as remember the legacy of Dr. King,” Terrell said.

The luncheon will begin at 10:45 a.m. Monday at the Natchez Convention Center.

Admission will be $10.

The parade will begin at 3 p.m. and line-up will begin at 1:30 along the bluffs.

Those who wish to participate should contact Katie Moore at 601-445-5957.