By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Hampton Roads joined the nation to celebrate the 91st birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and recall his legacy as a civil rights icon.
One of Norfolk’s most well-attended events observing King’s birth was held at the Attucks Theater.
Greetings from city leaders were delivered by the city leaders beginning with Councilman Paul Riddick, who urged citizens to vote and participate in the upcoming local and national elections.
He also reminded the audience of the city’s plans to demolish three of the city’s public housing communities and noted that no one was talking about it, despite recent protests and media coverage a suit challenging it.
Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander delivered greetings from the city as well and introduced members of the council.
Alexander said city leaders are concerned about the social and economic environment in the city. He urged the residents to continue to voice their concerns on various issues they face.
Minister Ernest Muhammad of the Muhammad’s Mosque in Norfolk, acknowledged the city’s leadership, including the police chief.
But he said there was a need for city leadership to be empathetic and to listen to another person’s view. Referring to the St. Paul’s Development, he said that “if you going to through someone out of their homes … at least listen to them.”
Muhammad also noted the philosophical differences between Dr. King and leaders of the Nation of Islam (NOI) including the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan. NOI leaders disagreed with King’s non-violent approach to conducting the Civil Rights Movement. But, Muhammad said, King and Muhammad did sit and talk, a sign of “Unity.”
The keynote speaker was Dr. Yvonne V. Delk. Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves introduced her as an advocate for people of color, children and the poor. Graves said Dr. Delk wanted the audience to know that she was born in Norfolk, graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, and Norfolk State University (NSU) and was “above all a child of God.”
The theme for Delk’s speech was derived from Dr. King’s speech at Riverside Church, in April 1967, a year before he was killed.
King preached on the “fierce urgency of now” in a sermon entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” when he urged opposition to the Vietnam conflict.
“Dr. King reminded us that we had to make the choice between nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation,” she said. “It was a time when Dr. King reminded us that we must move from indecision to action … the choice is ours.”
She said that it was an “urgent time in our cities, our nation, and the world.”
Delk said it feels to her that “we are losing our way … rather than finding our way. A time when we are searching for meaning and purpose, suffering from polarization, alienation, and brokenness.”
She continued, “A time when men, women and children are suffering violence and oppression and poverty and the gap is widening between rich and poor.”
“The urgency of our time requires a response … silence is not an option,” she said.
In 1967 when Dr. King stood in the pulpit of Riverside Church, Delk said, “That Martin Luther King, Jr., was not a nostalgic dreamer of 1963 (when he spoke at the Great March),” she said. “This was the leader after the child-killing bombing (in Atlanta), after the Mississippi Murders, after the assassination of Malcolm X, after Watts, after Chicago, after Detroit … after (the flames) engulfed the naked children in Vietnam.”
“This was a prophet…not a dreamer … calling out all the giant injustices of racism, militarism and extreme materialism … He called for more than holding hands and singing kumbaya.”
Delk reminded the audience King’s message brought criticism from both white and Black leaders.
“However, leadership for Martin was more than status … things … recognition or privileges. It was about the ability to lay down your life for what you believed in,” she said.
Dr. Delk said King would want us to move “from a thing-oriented society to becoming a purpose-oriented society.”
“King was sending a clear and certain sound at a time when we are facing more individuals packing city council halls to defend their right to own and carry guns than to pack city halls to defend children, men, and women.”