Bethel A.M.E. Church seeks to continue King's efforts in civil rights movement Key lesson is he lived his life on the edge of social change, pastor says

January 19, 1998|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Betty Keys doesn't need a designated holiday to remember Martin Luther King Jr.

Though it has been nearly three decades since the preacher and civil rights leader's murder, King's memory and legacy, his life and his death, still reverberate within her.

She is constantly reminded not only of who King was, but what he stood for.

"As long as we remember him, he will never die," Keys said yesterday, before services at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

She said she was in labor with her daughter, Kimberly, on April 4, 1968, when she learned that King had been assassinated on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tenn.

As the nation pauses today to commemorate and celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, thousands like Betty Keys are looking for ways to perpetuate the civil rights movement King embodied.

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, senior pastor of Bethel A.M.E., one of Baltimore's largest churches with 10,500 members, is one of them.

"The key lesson in Dr. King's life for us today is not just his 'I Have a Dream' but that he lived his life on the edge of social change," said Reid, who will preach today at Park School and at Garden of Prayer Church on Homestead Street in Baltimore about King and his legacy. "Most of us, as Dr. King said, were asleep during the revolution. It's time to wake up.

"We all need to commit ourselves to the principles [King and Malcolm X] exemplified -- affirmative action, quality public school education, the working poor and children, the declining middle class," Reid said. "I think King would have wanted a movement, not just a memory."

To that end, Reid and the leaders of the city's African-American churches intend to begin formu- lating an agenda to take actions to benefit parishioners and the city at large, he said.

"People say the state of race relations in this country depends on finding another Martin Luther King Jr.," said Taylor Branch, who spoke to Bethel A.M.E.'s congregation before signing copies of his just-released "Pillar of Fire," the second in a planned trilogy about the civil rights movement in the 1960s. "But let us all be prophets."

For Keys, remembering King is as much about the past as it is the future, and what needs to be done.

"Things are still not up to where I think he would want them to be," said Keys, a Bethel A.M.E. parishioner. "Things are a little better, but there's still a long, long way to go."

Pub Date: 1/19/98

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