Celebrations honor King’s dream

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Mary Hunter marched up Montgomery’s stately Dexter Avenue in 1965 to the Alabama Capitol with Martin Luther King Jr. at the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.

She was back Monday to celebrate the King Holiday with her granddaughter, Hanah Chillous. Hunter was wearing a shirt with the image of King and of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.

“I believe the reason why President Obama is in office is because of King’s dream of black and white being together,” Hunter said, motioning to the racially mixed crowd in front of the capitol.

Organizers said there were about 5,000 people gathered for a rally at the end of the march up Dexter, where King led protesters to the Capitol in 1965 and where Confederate troops marched during the Civil War.

The rally was within a block of King Memorial Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where a young King was pastor in the 1950s. It was from that church’s pulpit that King helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott after the arrest of seamstress Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

Preaching inside the church before the rally in front of the capitol, current pastor Rev. Michael Thurman said King led the way for Obama’s successful march to the White House.

“It was because of Martin Luther King Jr. and what he did that we witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama,” Thurman said. Looking out on a crowd of more than 200 that included many veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, Thurman said King was not alone.

Thurman began his speech by asking how many people in the crowd voted in last year’s presidential election. Most of those inside the church, black and white, raised their hands.

“There was a long trail of tears leading up to the White House,” Thurman said.

It was the 35th year for the march on the anniversary of King’s birth, an event that began with a few people celebrating on the back of a flat bed truck.

One of those at the rally was 74-year-old Sam Cook, who knew King and often picked him up at the airport when King would return to Montgomery. He said he also often drove King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, around town.

On those drives from the airport, he said he got to know a personal side of King.

“He was a very kind and gentle person. He was concerned about people and he always had something nice to say about everybody,” Cook said. “He made me feel like somebody important just by being with him.”

The 74-year-old Cook said he knows King would be proud that Obama was elected president.

“Doc King would be very happy that he would have accomplished his mission as far as voting is concerned,” said Cook, who named one of his daughters for Coretta King.

State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a veteran of civil rights protests who has organized and directed the King march for 20 years, said he agrees that Obama’s election wouldn’t have happened without the work of King. He points to the fact that during the hard-fought battle for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Obama won primaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, states with large black populations.

“If it hadn’t been for what King did and the Voting Rights Act, all of those people might not have gotten registered,” Holmes said.