Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
January 15, 2024
During a speech at the state Capitol on Friday, the 15-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. said Georgia can continue to set an example for the rest of the country in how to fight for justice and equality that King championed before his assassination.
Yolanda Renee King, the only grandchild of the civil rights icon and his wife Coretta Scott King, delivered a message of inspiration for Georgians as the keynote speaker as more than 150 people attended the state’s annual celebration of the civil rights leader’s birthday.
Federal and Georgia governments will be closed on Monday in observance of the King’s birthday holiday, celebrated every third Monday in January. In 1968, King was slain at the age of 39 after becoming the leading face of the nonviolent Civil Rights movement fighting systemic racism facing Black people across the deep South and other parts of America.
King said the strides made in Georgia over the past few decades to address long-standing injustices can continue this holiday weekend by residents taking the opportunity to honor King through community service.
“All Georgians can take pride that Martin Luther King Jr. called our state home and that even with all of the racial segregation of our past, he was able to sow seeds of interracial brotherhood and sisterhood into the red clay of this state,” she said during the event held inside the Capitol. “Under his leadership, people of all races and religions came forward to take a stand for justice and equality. Let us thank God that this spirit of interracial goodwill has prospered in Georgia perhaps more than any other state.”
King would follow Friday in the footsteps of her aunt and King’s daughter’s Bernice King, who during the state sponsored 2020 tribute to her father spoke about the ongoing battle against social injustices and economic inequalities.
King’s granddaughter highlighted the importance of the upcoming election year in 2024 when Georgians will elect state legislators and congressional members, and the entire nation will determine the next president.
“In the months ahead America will be involved in political campaigns that threaten to divide our nation and Georgia will surely be one of the most contested states,” she said. “But we who call Georgia home can set a different tone, a tone of mutual respect and goodwill, a tone of perseverance and friendship for all people that can still be exemplified by the non-violent spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.”
Friday’s ceremony was also an opportunity to acknowledge the June 29 death of King’s eldest sibling and a civil rights leader in her own right, Christine King Farris, who became one of four Black Americans to receive the distinction of lying in state at Georgia’s Capitol Rotunda.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said King’s unwavering dedication to racial equality is what eventually led to King’s wife and sister being honored in a way that was once denied to King by the state government.
A national poll conducted a few years before Kings’ death revealed that more than 60% of Americans held an unfavorable view of him. Gallup’s 1965 poll showed a stark difference between racial demographics, with 89% of Black people favoring King compared to 38% of White Americans.
“We had an important opportunity to provide (Farris) the tribute that had been unjustly denied her brother decades before you know it was a shining example of the great strides made since his tragic death,” Kemp said. “But while we acknowledge the work that has been done, it is important to remember that we still have work that remains before us.”
During the ceremony, the Georgia Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council recognized this year’s winners of awards named after five former longtime Georgia residents who worked closely with King during the Civil Rights Era.
A lifetime achievement award named after the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis was presented to former state Rep. Calvin Smyre, known as the long-time dean of the House. The Columbus Democrat retired from the Legislature in 2022 after becoming the state’s longest serving elected official with 48 years as a lawmaker.
Smyre shared this year’s lifetime achievement award with Omotayo Alli, who has been the executive director of the Georgia Public Defender Council since 2020, and is credited with improving legal representation for those who cannot afford it.
Also on Friday, Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who represents 500 Georgia churches within the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Sixth Episcopal District, was presented with an award named after Rev. Joseph Lowery, a former president of the United Methodist Church who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King.
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