It was a sight to behold: hundreds of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. brothers, old and young, splendidly decked out to form a sea of black and gold, speckled by the pink and green and crimson and cream of the ladies of the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta sororities. They had gathered Friday morning, not far from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to celebrate a preacher, a civil rights legend and their 25-plus year effort to honor their brother.
In his invocation at the private dedication, Dr. Joseph Lowery, who with King formed the Southern Leadership Christian Leadership Conference, gave thanks for the fact that his brothers had been crazy enough--the “good kind of crazy”--he said, “to dare, think, feel or surmise that we could raise hundreds, millions of dollars to put a Black brother on the Mall.”
Former Maryland Rep. Connie Morella, who sponsored the legislation that made the memorial possible, was a student at Boston University when King pledged Alpha Phi Alpha at the university.
“It is right and just to recognize Dr. King as one of our nation’s greatest leaders in the ongoing struggle to achieve true full equality for all Americans. In his very short lifetime of 39 years, Dr. King created a moral and political revolution that is indelible within the hearts and the minds of Americans,” Morella said. “As a man of peace, Dr. King recognized that along with the freedom comes a strong measure of accountability and responsibility. He showed us that civil rights is not just a struggle for the rights of Black Americans, but a struggle to ensure the rights of all Americans.”
Morella suggested that in a city filled with symbols and monuments, King’s memorial represents something more special and forward thinking, and should serve as reminder of his relentless and ongoing mission for justice and equality.
Bernice King, in her remarks honored her mother, Coretta Scott King, who valiantly fought to keep her husband’s legacy of alive after his assassination, and said that if not for those efforts, he might not be so revered today. She also said that she believes her father might not be so comfortable with his status of a civil rights icon if he were still alive.
But as she noted, with so many African-Americans who currently have yet to realize his dream, the honor comes at a very precipitous time, when there is so much “conversation and conflict” surrounding war, youth flash mobs and disregard for those most in need. While President Abraham Lincoln is best known for signing the Declaration of Independence, “Daddy” is being remembered for standing up for truth, justice, righteousness, peace and freedom, King said. And even though the monument’s sculptor used the “I have a Dream” speech as his inspiration for the memorial, she contended, the papers he’s depicted holding represent his belief that the nation had failed in delivering its promise to its “Negro citizens.”
"He said we are here to deliver that promissory note and we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt, even though we have been presented with a check marked with insufficient funds,” King said. “Well, Daddy is standing here now as a constant reminder with those rolled up sheets up of paper representing that promissory note to say to this nation that you must forever deliver on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for oppressed and marginalized people for every generation.”
Lou Jones, who pledged at Florida A & M University in 1948, attended a lot of King’s civil rights meetings in New Jersey, and said that King’s influence brought about lots of other meetings in their communities that led to demonstrations and protests for jobs and housing.
Loyld Givens, who pledged at Southern Baptist University in 1959, was involved in student movements before King came on the scene and was arrested in a protest 1961 in the university’s last protest of that year.
“He had more courage and he faced down something that many men couldn’t. And he figured something out: if we could get world attention on the problems in America, then America would have to look at itself and start to change,” Givens said. “I think that’s eventually what happened because we had no guns, we couldn’t fight this any other way and he chose the proper path to lead us. And we’re thankful for that and that’s why we’re celebrating.”
King’s Alpha brothers were, of course, disappointed by the fact that Sunday’s formal dedication had to be postponed due to inclement weather, but as one person was overheard saying, “It’s here.”
(Photos: AP Photo/Cliff Owen)