King rally laments 'dream deferred'

January 18, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., "would turn over in his grave" at the persistent crime, poverty and violence within urban, black communities, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the NAACP, said yesterday in Annapolis.

"He would turn over in his grave if he could see some of the things going on in our communities," Dr. Chavis said at a rally at the First Baptist Church at Clay and West Washington streets to celebrate the civil rights leader's 65th birthday.

Clay Street was once the hub of Annapolis' black community, but today the neighborhood struggles with poverty and crime.

Dr. Chavis and local civil rights leaders said Dr. King's dream of every child having an equal chance in life has stalled.

"If you go up Clay Street, you'll find a dream deferred," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat. "You'll find people unemployed who need assistance. You find young people who need assistance. You walk up Clay Street and you see people who have not achieved the American dream.

"We need to face African-American problems," said Mr. Snowden. "More people died as a result of street violence -- us killing us -- than died in the worst time of lynchings in America.

"I believe if Dr. King were with us today, he would look at Clay Street as an opportunity and a challenge," Mr. Snowden said. "Just as we have a responsibility to make the streets safe in a snow storm, we have a responsibility to make the streets safe for those who walk up Clay Street."

Icy roads and snow delayed Dr. Chavis' visit by more than three hours. When he arrived about 3 p.m., only 15 people, less than half the crowd that had gathered earlier, waited inside the First Baptist Church.

Dr. Chavis echoed Mr. Snowden's belief that the civil rights movement lost its momentum when its leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.

He blamed the movement's deterioration partly on a political "repression" that he said began with the election of Richard Nixon as president and partly on the splintering of the movement's coalition of church and community leaders.

Meanwhile, black communities have deteriorated, Dr. Chavis said.

"The great social malady in our society is amnesia," he said. "No one seems to remember that they got where they are through the sacrifices of others."

He said he wants to reforge the civil rights coalition by finding common ground among the splintered groups and involving more young people in leadership.

And he predicted he would "make some people uncomfortable" in a speech scheduled last night at the Smithsonian where he planned to denounce anti-Semitism.

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