Arundel MLK event organizers energized by Glenn Beck rally

Civil rights leaders to commemorate 47th anniversary of 'I Have a Dream" speech

August 27, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Civil rights leaders across Maryland will commemorate the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech Saturday with a rally on the grounds of Anne Arundel Community College.

Hundreds are expected at the noon event at the King memorial statue on the Arnold campus, which coincides with events across the country. One of those stirring controversy is the rally being hosted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck and featuring former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington — the site of King's 1963 speech.

Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, which organized the Maryland event, said news of the Washington rally has energized Marylanders to come out in greater numbers to celebrate King at the community college. Snowden said he has fielded dozens of calls from people angry that Beck would hold a rally on the site and on the anniversary of the famous speech, but he sees the controversy as an opportunity to galvanize voters in advance of the state's gubernatorial race and the country's midterm elections.

"Every now and again, you need someone or something to remind you of why it's important to continue to struggle," said Snowden, director of the Maryland attorney general's office for civil rights. He said he now expects hundreds of people to attend the event. "Them being at that location is symbolic of something — that freedom is not free. One of Dr. King's famous lines was 'Give us the ballot box and we'll solve our problems.' It's our responsibility now to make sure people get to the polls."

The Rev. Al Sharpton has organized a march and rally on the National Mall in response to Beck's "Restoring Honor" event which is expected to draw a huge crowd of conservative activists, including those in the tea party movement.

The community college event will feature Evelyn Bethune, granddaughter of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, as keynote speaker. Other participants include County Executive John R. Leopold, Rep. John Sarbanes, participants in the 1963 rally and representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, the Anne Arundel County NAACP, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the United Christian Clergy Alliance and several other community groups are co-sponsors.

Organizers say it is important to mark this year's anniversary as the civil rights movement finds itself at a crossroads. Despite President Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president, many of the social ills that King tried to remedy still exist, said Snowden. He said it's important to attend the rally to "remind this generation of the need to become engaged in the struggle to make the lives of future generations better."

Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel County NAACP, said, "It is our intention to have a community celebration of one of the most pivotal rallies that ever occurred in our nation. The 1963 rally changed the course of our nation."

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