50 YEARS AFTER DR. KING’S DEATH, REV. BARBER SAYS “PICK UP THE BATON”
BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
It is not widely known, but 50 years ago next week, on April 4, 1968, civil rights leader, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was supposed to be in Wilmington, N. C. to take part in a voter registration campaign, sponsored by the local branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
However, a few days earlier, Dr. King called to postpone his appearance, saying that he was needed in Memphis, Tenn. to support the sanitation workers, who were going on strike there.
As King stepped out of his room on the second-floor of the Lorraine Motel to speak to an aide down in the parking lot, a gunshot rang out at 6:05 p. m., and the civil rights leader was fatally struck in the face.
After being rushed to a nearby hospital, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was officially pronounced dead at 7:05 p. m.
Next week, the nation, and indeed the world, will commemorate that fateful day when, as has been said many times since, “They killed the Dreamer.”
The man who is seen today as “The Dreamer’s” natural successor, Bishop Dr. William Barber, II, former president of the NCNAACP, and current leader of another social justice organization, Repairers of the Breach, says with many of the basic rights for which Dr. King fought and died still under assault – voting rights, civil and equal rights, fair housing , equal employment, etc. – today’s generation of freedom-lovers should remember King’s legacy and sacrifice, with careful consideration, and determined non-violent action.
“To say that here, years after his assassination, is something we should think about deeply,” Dr. Barber said, “but we dishonor the memory of Dr. King and all those who suffered if we simply commemorate his assassination.”
“You do not commemorate an assassination of a leader or a prophet,” Dr. Barber continued. “You certainly don’t celebrate. There’s only one thing you do – you go to the place where they were killed, and you reach into the blood, and you pick up the baton, and you carry it the next leg of the way.”
“That is our calling [now], and I know that would be Dr. King’s dream for us because, as he said in his last sermon, “Nothing would be more tragic, than for us to turn back now!”
The man who succeeded Dr. Barber as president of the NCNAACP, The Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, also believes that the baton for freedom, justice and equality must go forward, but believes firmly that, just like in Dr. King’s day over 50 years ago, young people are rising to the challenge, and demanding change, as dramatically seen last weekend during the State and nationwide March for Our Lives demonstrations in cities like Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh.
“I was a sensitive 16 year old when Dr. King was killed, and can still remember how the traumatic news of his death sparked an array of emotion in me,” Dr. Spearman recalls. “That trauma still lingers in my body 50 years later and moves me to continue fighting for the justice.”
“King was, and still is my hero. His death did not stop the movement, as movement ordered by God is never stopped with the death of the leader. It did, however, take on new dimensions as some of us struggled to find our fit in the movement. There are many who have picked up the torch, including the youth of #MarchingForOurLives. They respect and are equipped to carry on the legacy today.”