Quoting poetry and song, drawing on the legacy of the civil rights movement, former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, 68, urged more than 300 guests at Annapolis' fourth annual Martin Luther King Dinner to rededicate themselves to the struggle for equality.
The state's first blackcongressman, who broke racial barriers as a graduate student at the University of Maryland and later founded the Minority Business Legal Defense Fund in Washington, said he's been committed to fighting racism since age 12.
Marching as a child to protest discriminatory hiring by stores inBaltimore, he said he decided "that from that point on until I died I would be in that struggle."
Mitchell emphasized that Wednesday night's dinner at Buddy's Crabs and Ribs was "not just a celebration of Martin Luther King. This is a rededication of ourselves, our souls,our bodies. . . . This, my brothers and sisters, is our minute."
City and county officials joined the overflow crowd in the restaurantto honor nine men and women who helped further civil rights. The annual dinner was started by Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5.
Kenneth L. Webster, a former state delegate from Baltimore, was recognized for his work in the Annapolis community and his efforts to have Maryland make King's birthday a state holiday. In 1974, after heavy caucusing by Webster and other black legislators, the state became the second in the nation to declare the birthday an official holiday.
Choking back tears, Fay W. Allen, wife of the late Aris T. Allen, accepted an award in his name from an arms-control group. Allen, a doctor who was the only black Republican in the General Assembly, committed suicide last February after discovering he had cancer.
"I am deeply touched that you have chosen the Sane/Freeze award to bestow upon my husband," she said. "He was a great admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King,and he would have been pleased by this award."
Others honored at the dinner were: Sgt. Robert Beans, who sued the city and succeededin changing employment practices at the Police Department; Lewis A. Bracy, chairman of the county's Black Political Forum and a mentor tochildren in low-income neighborhoods; and Thomas E. Florestano, president of Anne Arundel Community College and a strong proponent of affirmative-action programs.
Also recognized were: Patsy Baker Blackshear, an Annapolis resident and deputy school superintendent in Baltimore; Cecil Burton, a longtime community and business leader; DorothyPointer Chambers, who was an advocate for equal rights in the countypublic schools and active in human relations issues in the city; andOra Snowden, a reader in senior citizen and church activities and mother of nine children, including Alderman Snowden.
Mitchell congratulated the recipients and thanked Snowden for his "indefatigable work" for justice. Chanting the refrain of "We Shall Overcome," he told the audience how moved he was to hear Chinese students in Tiananmen Square and Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall singing the same words.
"What a legacy to give, not just to America, but to the whole world," he said. "That was the legacy of the indestructibility of the will of man."