East Carolina University Professor David Dennard Speaks at New Bern-based Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Outreach Ministries

On a windy, freezing Monday morning with temperatures in the 20s – exhaust fumes and human breath visible outdoors – there was warmth inside the banquet room at The Flame – site of the renewed Dr. M. L. King Jr. breakfast remembrance and celebration.

After a half-dozen years, the New Bern-based Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Outreach Ministries resumed what had been an annual event on the national holiday celebrating the work of the late 1960s Civil Rights leader.

Marshall Williams, the co-organizer with the Rev. Robert Johnson, said that in recent years, only a candlelight vigil had been held in April on the anniversary of King’s 1968 assassination on the deck of a Memphis, Tenn., motel.

“We met and decided it was time to resume the breakfast,” he said.

Williams added that plans were in the works to continue the April ceremony this year as well.

With more than 130 people – black and white – in attendance, the keynote speaker was East Carolina University professor David Dennard, who specializes in social and cultural history in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

His talk was on what would have been King’s message in the 21st century.

He told the Sun Journal in a pre-talk interview that main areas of concern remain.

“I like the fact that we have made considerable progress since 1968, but we still have some unfinished work,” he said. “The population of the poor has increased. The prison population has increased tremendously. And we have not made any significant strides to curb the intoxication with the triple evils.”

He listed those as racism, materialism and militarism.

“We still have to work in this mantra of white supremacy,” he said. “It is because we have not overcome the past, not seeing our neighbors as fellow human beings.”

He said some of it has to do with upbringing and society’s general outlook on race.

“We still have these structural foundations of racism, not individuals’ maybe, but we have not changed the structure,” he said. “That is what Dr. King was talking about.”

He said structural changes go as far back as when blacks and whites first went to the same schools.

“When we look at the public schools, we desegregated, but we didn’t integrate,” he said.

During the talk, he told the audience “We do not want to return to the 1960s.”

He made reference to a connection of President Abraham Lincoln of the 1860s and King a century later, calling them “powerful and courageous” in the area of freedom for all Americans.

“Neither man created or initiated the circumstances,” he said.

But, he said both men reacted.

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves.

King came onto the national scene in 1955 during the organization of bus boycotts in Montgomery, Ala. and later addressed more wide-ranging issues.

“Both were for freedom, justice and equality,” Dennard said. “We must continue to work to make America what is was meant to be.”

He said 21st work continues a theme of protecting civil rights, voting and seeking election to local, state and national offices.”

He added that King should not be viewed as a “conventional hero.”

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SOURCE: New Bern Sun Journal, by Charlie Hall