Talesha Caynon and Marsha Murdaugh make last minute preparations for the 29th annual MLK Day Breakfast.
MLK Day Celebrated in Hollis and Manchester
“Celebrate, Remember, and Act” was the theme of the Rev. Renee Rouse’s message to the Martin Luther King Day Breakfast held in Hollis, New Hampshire this morning. Yes, today is a day to celebrate freedom. But what we each do with it is the challenge, the minister from the Brookline Community Church said to a full hall at the Alpine Grove, where Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity held its 29th annual MLK Day event.
Likewise, Nashua Mayor Donalee Lozeau talked about memory, calling the holiday a day for “thoughtful reflection” on lessons we can learn from history, including what she called “intentional mistakes.”
Surely among those we can count New Hampshire’s stubborn resistance to honoring Dr. King, resistance that was finally overcome in 1999 after a 20-year struggle. One thing we might learn, I suppose, is the importance of persistence. Another worthy of reflection is the importance of the holiday itself as a day to not only ponder history but to ponder our own roles as makers of history. In those roles, Dr. King remains a powerful model.
Every year I have the privilege of speaking at the MLK Breakfast, giving what OBU calls “the update.” Back in the day it was an update on the campaign to prevail at the State House for the King holiday. Now, I get to speak about what is going on at the State House related to the prophetic vision we associate with Dr. King.
Today I began my comments at the beginning of King’s career, before Rosa Parks (and Claudette Colvin) refused to give up seats on Montgomery buses. The issue mobilizing the Montgomery “Negro” community was the wrongful conviction and death sentence of Jeremiah Reeves, a Black musician accused of raping a white woman. In his Montgomery memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, King said “the Reeves case was typical of the unequal justice of Southern courts,” where Black men could be executed based on false accusations yet white men who raped “Negro girls” were rarely arrested and never brought to trial.
The fact that King’s activism began with a campaign to stop an execution is little known, but might carry some weight in the only New England state where the death penalty remains on the books. We are also a state in which the outcome of two recent capital trials demonstrates that the “unequal justice” King described is not limited to the South or confined to history. Remember and act.
King’s career ended in Memphis during a strike of city workers aiming for recognition of their union, and that was where I took my comments. While our own legislature finally rejected last year’s poisonous right-to-work-for-less bills, attacks on public sector collective bargaining are back. Senate President Peter Bragdon has just come out with SB 37, a bill that would eviscerate the power of public sector workers at the bargaining table. We need the spirit of Dr. King and the Memphis workers at the State House this year. Remember and act.
But we can’t forget to celebrate, and this year we celebrate the dedication of the NH Sisters of Mercy, who were awarded the Martin Luther King Award in Manchester at an event aptly called the Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration. The “Mercies” have been at the forefront of umpteen struggles for social justice longer than I’ve been in New Hampshire. While the MLK Day Award has almost always gone to individuals in previous years, it felt great for the Sisters to be recognized as the community they are.
Selina Taylor, an organizer with the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and a member of the leadership of the Manchester NAACP was also recognized with an award.
Richard Haynes delivered the keynote at the afternoon celebration, where he stressed the importance of education to a full house at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s community hall. I’m sure he would have agreed with Rev. Rouse, who said we make a difference every day by “leaving footprints behind” for those coming up behind us.
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