King's life recalled at events

January 15, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Dr. Gene Cornelius Young was 13 that August day in 1963 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Dr. Young had gone to Washington, D.C., with his older brothers to be a part of history.

Yesterday, before 1,600 people gathered at Martin's West in Woodlawn to celebrate the civil rights leader's birthday, he spoke in a rich baritone and used excerpts from Dr. King's speeches to recount the civil rights struggle.

Dr. Young, who teaches English and speech at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., said he brought his two children to Washington last August for the 30th anniversary of the great march.

He told the crowd yesterday that ordinary people need to help change things for those who are still denied equality and prosperity.

"Each of us can do something, but not one of us can do everything," he said.

Dr. Young also spoke of the problems that have arisen since Dr. King was assassinated in April 1968.

He told his listeners that every 26 seconds a young African-American decides not to go to college, and every 46 seconds one decides to drop out of high school. He gave a litany of the intervals of time that mark shootings, suicides and the birth of children into poverty or to teen-age mothers.

And he spoke of the need to embrace and continue Dr. King's legacy of nonviolence.

He used Colin Ferguson, who has been charged with killing six people and wounding 17 others on a New York commuter train last month, as an example of the terror that results from hatred and violence.

Mr. Ferguson allegedly shot the people in part because he hated whites, Asians and certain blacks.

"Violence is always a descending spiral leading nowhere," Dr. Young said.

As he spoke, organizers of an anti-handgun rally in Annapolis planned for Monday, the federally designated holiday for Dr. King's birthday, placed bright yellow fliers on the car windshields of those attending the memorial breakfast.

Dr. Young has been active in the civil rights movement. He returned to Jackson in 1986 and worked for the state Department of Education before becoming an assistant professor at Jackson State.

Yesterday's breakfast was the 19th sponsored by the YMCA of Greater Baltimore and the King's Landing Women's Service Club.

At another breakfast, sponsored yesterday by the Federation of Maryland Teachers, the president of the National Urban Council said Dr. King's legacy should be nurtured and cherished. Ramona Edelin, who knew Dr. King when she was a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., said that his background and upbringing explain much about his approach to ending segregation.

She spoke about Dr. King's early years in Atlanta -- "the precocious young son of a prototypical patriarch" -- and the high expectations he learned at home, then carried with him into the university world.

As a young man, Dr. Edelin said, Dr. King probably was told what many middle-class blacks learned in the South -- that segregation and lynchings were a sign of whites' moral inferiority. "We contrast this cultural experience with families in the urban North, who did not see their segregation," she said. "[In the North], there was very little of a cultural basis for nonviolence."

Dr. King also drew on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the "Egyptian Book of the Dead" in his speeches and writings, she told the audience at the Omni-Inner Harbor Hotel.

Deborah Chapman, a student at Cecil Elementary School, read a prize-winning essay by classmate Zina Renee Smith on "What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me." The Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School Gospel Choir sang three selections.

"And we talk about a lost generation," federation president Irene B. Dandridge said after the performance. "They tell us our kids can't read. If a fifth-grader can write this and a fifth-grader can read it, we must be doing OK."

HEAR SPEECH

To hear excerpts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, which was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 1963, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County and 848-0338 in Carroll County. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6116 after you hear the greeting.

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