The life and work of one of the greatest civil rights leaders in American history was celebrated at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Ceremony on Jan. 15 at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
The awards are given to those who demonstrate Dr. King’s legacy of raising public consciousness to social justices, securing progress on civil rights and loving and serving humanity, according to Dr. LaVelle Hendricks, president of the Hunt County African American Leadership Conference, which staged the awards along with the Commerce Rotary Club.
Dr. Hal Langford, dean of the College of Business and Technology at Texas A&M; University-Commerce, told the crowd about the call, the dream, the fulfillment and the second call of Dr. King’s life.
Not many people know that Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr., according to Langford. His father was the son of sharecroppers and was the first generation removed from slavery. At an early age, his father received the call to preach and moved to Atlanta, where he met and married a minister’s daughter.
“Michael Sr. took his family to Germany in the 1930s and while he was there, he studied and became enthralled with the great reformer Martin Luther,” Langford said. “When he returned to Atlanta, he changed his name to Martin Luther King Sr. and changed his son’s name to Martin Luther King Jr.”
Dr. King’s father had a great deal of influence on him, both in his decision to go into the ministry and in shaping his views on justice and equality, Langford said. One time when he was young, both King and his father had to leave a shoe shine shop because they were asked to change seats. He had never seen his father so furious.
The experience revealed to him that his father had not adjusted to the system and it played a great part in shaping his conscience. His father muttered as they walked down the street, “I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.”
Langford went on to recall the highlights of King’s life to fight injustice in America, including the bus boycotts in Montgomery, Ala., in 1965 and founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967.
Through it all, King was committed to the philosophy of non-violent confrontation.
“In the Birmingham (Ala.) campaign of early 1963, it was made so famous because “Bull” Connor who was the police chief in Birmingham, turned water hoses on demonstrators and loosed attack dogs on demonstrators, many of whom were children,” Langford said.
“The movies that were shown on television had a great impact on changing the opinion of most of America outside the deep South. John Kennedy said that when he saw the pictures of the attack dogs attacking children he became physically ill.”
Langford said that King led many other events, including the March on Washington, the Selma March and the Poor People’s Campaign, which focused on inequality for people of all races and all regions in America.
But it all came to an end when James Earl Ray assassinated King in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968.
“You see, Dr. King heard the call and followed it full well knowing what was going to happen in the end,” Langford said. “When you listen to the ‘I’ve Been To the Mountain Top’ speech he said very clearly that he expected to die. He knew what following that call meant.”
Langford said King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is one of the greatest speeches of all time. Part of that dream has been fulfilled with the election of Barack Obama as president.
“When we talk about fulfillment of that dream, we know that on Nov. 4 of (2008), the dream was fulfilled when 66,882,230 votes were cast for President Barack Obama,” he said. “There are some 40,700,000 African Americans — 13.5 percent of the population. It’s pretty easy to see, therefore, that he was not judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.”
But there is still more to be done, according to Langford. The second call comes to us in Commerce.
“We’ve got to do something in this community to bring our groups together,” he said. “It is wonderful that we are here together celebrating tonight, but we are very, very far from including all people in Commerce, Texas.
“We all know that there are children who are going to go to bed tonight right here in Commerce, Texas, whose only decent meal today came at school. We know that there are children who will not get their homework done tonight because nobody at home cares. There are people in Commerce who have lost all hope today, on this day above all days when we celebrate hope.
“There is poverty and hunger and ignorance and the plague of indifference right here in Commerce, Texas, that we must confront and we must work together.”
Langford said in one of King’s last sermons, he said that at his funeral he wanted no mention made of his awards and accolades. Instead, he wanted it remembered that he tried to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be right on the war question and love and serve humanity.
“If this is what Dr. King wanted to be remembered for, should we not strive for these same accolades ourselves?” Langford said.
2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Award winners:
Dr. Wendell Edwards, Spiritual Award; Richard Hill, Political Award; Dr. Hal Langford, Education Award; Quay Throgmorton, Spirit of Service Award; Live Oak Professional Medical Center, Medical Award; Pastor Harold Pannell, Spirit of Fellowship Award; Billie Biggerstaff, Choice of Excellence Award; Harry Turner, Spirit of Faithfulness Award; Benson Brothers, Business Award; Clara Fields, Spirit of Encouragement Award; Hayley Jobe, King’s Kids Award; Kerry Crews, Law Enforcement Award; Billy Reed, Social Change Award; Opal Pannell, Spirit of Commitment Award; Ivory Moore, Legacy of King Award; Rachel Armstrong, Youth of the Year Award; Larry Dixon, Pastor of the Year Award; Malcolm Thomas, Music Award; First United Methodist Church, Church of the Year Award; Claudia Record, Community Steward Award; Joe and Kate Mangual, Family of the Year; Elizabeth Hines, Evangelism Award; Zurn Corporation, Employer of the Year; Bill Relford, MLK City Award; Jay Strickland, MLK Media Award; Michael Pierce, MLK County Award; Tony Henry, Spirit of Dedication Award; Tracy Lunceford and The Department of Public Works, Municipal Official Award; Hunt Regional Community Hospital at Commerce, Humanitarian Award; A.C. Williams Elementary School, MLK School of the Year; Jack Gray, MLK Employee of the Year; Anne Ruth Champion, MLK Woman of the Year; Dr. Fred Tarpley, MLK Man of the Year; Texas A&M;, Commerce Women Soccer Team, MLK People of the Year