Many of the social injustices Martin Luther King Jr. fought against before his death must still be confronted in 2020, his daughter Bernice King said during a tribute to the civil rights icon at the state Capitol Friday.
Urgency is needed to combat voter suppression, housing discrimination, mass incarceration and a growing wealth disparity she told an audience of more than 100 people gathered in front of steps in the Gold Dome’s North Wing. Other members of King’s family and a host of top state officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus were on hand for her remarks and a program that featured a choir and a keynote speech from the Canadian Consul General.
State offices are closed Monday for the national holiday to celebrate the legacy of the civil rights icon. He would have turned 91 last week.
Bernice King is the CEO of the King Center, which she said focused on voter registration over the last week, along with pushing against social injustice ills in America.
“It is abundantly clear that we cannot wait,” she said. “If we embrace the fierce urgency of now, we won’t be too late.”
She added, “If we learn how to work together to change unjust systems and policies, we won’t be too late.”
Friday’s keynote speaker detailed the historic connection between black Americans and Canada, a country where thousands of American slaves went to find freedom, said Canadian Consul General Nadia Theodore.
She told of a meeting between the black Southern preacher King and a white producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation named Janet Somerville.
King recorded a series of lectures with Somerville in which he passionately detailed topics like the mood of black Americans and tension that led to rioting in Detroit and Newark, New Jersey in 1967.
King was assassinated just months after he offered Sommerville a speech-writing position. The lectures provided the content for 1967’s Conscience for Change book. King inspired Somerville to dedicate herself to faith and human rights and she became a prominent speaker and writer who focused on religion. She received the Order of Canada for her advocacy in faith and human rights causes, Theodore said.
“Today, as one of the few women of color, and the only black woman to represent my country abroad as head of a diplomatic representation, I aspire to (King’s) example of leadership, integrity and fortitude,” Theodore said. “I embrace his commitment to the pursuit of equity of human rights, not just for anyone marginalized, but for all people.”
Friday’s tribute concluded with the unveiling of an interactive video display on the fight for voting rights by women and blacks in America.
Sen. Emmanuel Jones, a Decatur Democrat, sponsored the resolution that led to the display now located on the fourth floor of the Capitol.
A 46-year member of the Legislature Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Columbus Democrat, said he was glad to see the display located in the Capitol.
“I’m always in a jovial mood when I see more diversity and inclusion at the Capitol,” he said.