Butler County remembers Martin Luther King

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Jerome A. Gray called on black Americans to not only remember and celebrate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but to act on the teachings of the renowned Civil Rights leader whose birthday was celebrated nationally on Monday.

Gray, state field director for the Alabama Democratic Conference, spoke to a large crowd gathered at Greenville's Dunbar Recreation Center on Monday morning for the Butler County Civic League's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast.

&#8220If Dr. King were alive today, I'm sure he'd be pleased at how our nation has remembered him,” said Gray, noting that not only had King been honored by painters, musicians, writers, and cities across American who've named streets after him, but that a memorial dedicated in King's name will open in 2008 at the National Mall in Washington D.C.

King will be the first African American honored with his own memorial in the National Mall area and the only the third non-President to be commemorated in such a way.

&#8220What a tributeŠoh, how far we've come,” said Gray. &#8220Amazingly, at this moment in history, America is doing a better job of remembering Dr. King than any other American in history.”

Gray drew comparisons between King and Old Testament author Nehemiah, calling both individuals committed to God and having compassion for their respective communities. Both men also had a significant amount of courage, said Gray.

&#8220In retrospect how courageous was it for Dr. King confront the fire hoses, the vicious dogs and people like &#8220Bull” Connor in Selma without weapons,” said Gray. &#8220His weapon was non-violence.”

But Gray said he felt black America was still &#8220at Canaan's edge,” referring to Civil Rights historian Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years.

Gray said sometimes it was necessary to be &#8220slapped” by God in order to spur an individual to action. He recalled reading an editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that questioned how many cities in America were honoring King's birthday. Gray then conducted a survey of Alabama cities in 1991 to determine the same information and discovered that the majority of the state's municipalities did not recognize King's birthday. The survey was a call to action, said Gray, and leaders in the black community helped cast awareness on the issue. As a result, said Gray, the same survey conducted in 1999 showed that the number of communities in the state recognizing the King holiday had jumped dramatically.

&#8220The editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution was my slap,” said Gray. &#8220And I acted responsibly. And in doing so it was not necessary for my to call anyone a racist.”

Gray advised those blacks scared, uninvolved or unconcerned to visit the &#8220downing grounds” in their respective communities and let God slap them.

&#8220Go to the schools, go to the courtrooms, go to the prisonsŠGod slapped Saul on the road to Damascus and he became Paul and wrote a book called Acts,” said Gray. &#8220When God slaps you all of those people who seem like giants will seem like grasshoppers. Stop dreaming and start doing.”

Ruby Shambray, who presided over Monday's memorial, praised Gray's message.

&#8220He (Gray) has called upon us to act,” said Shambray. &#8220Dr. King started it but we have a part to do.”