King’s words echo in state Capitol as ceremony heralds holiday memorials

Martin Luther King Jr.'s nephew Isaac Newton Farris Jr. said on what would have been King's 92nd birthday Friday that his uncle showed that peaceful protests can lead to meaningful changes. Farris spoke during Georgia's 36th annual King celebration at an event attended by (front row, left to right) by state Sen. Emanuel Jones, House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Gov. Brian Kemp and dozens of others. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia’s top political leaders said Martin Luther King Jr.’s messages from six decades ago still resonate loudly in a tumultuous time of a deadly pandemic, social upheaval caused by racial injustice and American political divisions so extreme that a mob just stormed the U.S. Capitol.

The remembrance King’s legacy was offered during Friday’s ceremony at the state Capitol on what would have been the late civil rights leader’s 92nd birthday. Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, House Speaker David Ralston and Georgia Legislative Black Caucus members were on hand for the state’s 36th annual King celebration. 

This year’s event drew fewer people due to social distancing on a lower floor inside the Capitol. An increased law enforcement presence greeted guests as threats of violence over the presidential election outcome are specifically targeting state Capitol buildings. 

As in the 1960s, when national guard troops protected many Civil Rights protesters asking for fundamental liberties, decades later, state troopers, Georgia Guard and Capitol police stood watch over the halls of state government Friday as elected officials and dozens of others gathered to honor King. 

The scene provided another reminder of an unbelievably sad ten-month stretch when more than 10,800 Georgians have died from COVID-19 complications; a summer of national protests over racial injustice in the wake of the high-profile killings of Glynn County’s Ahmaud Arbery, Milwaukee’s George Floyd, and Louisville’s Breonna Taylor;  and a Jan. 6 deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

King’s emphasis on the need for civility still holds up, as does his greatest gift to the nation that change can come through peaceful protests even in the face of violence, said King’s nephew Isaac Newton Farris Jr.

“Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement brought down the most powerful government in this country, stopped it from doing its wrong ways, having never fired a shot, never having disrupted any property, never having hurt any person,” he said. 

Former WSB-TV anchor and keynote speaker Monica Kaufman Pearson said the political insurrection culminating in the U.S. Capitol riot gives credence to King’s writing that “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

It’s essential to adhere to the standard of treating others fairly, said the first woman and first Black person to anchor TV evening news in Atlanta when she assumed that role in 1975.

Former WSB-TV anchor Monica Kaufman Pearson said that many Americans need to show more civility as unrest and dangerous political rhetoric led to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. She spoke at the state’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday ceremony. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

“What you saw last week actually started a few years ago,” Pearson said. “It was called a breakdown in civility— the smallest small things. But let me be clear here: this breakdown in civility, this tunnel vision is not a party problem. It’s a people problem.”

The state’s King celebration also featured tributes to civil rights leaders who have died recently, including Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Joseph Lowery, who is remembered as the the dean of the movement, and Rita Jackson Samuels, a staunch women’s rights activist.

Also, Kemp, Duncan, and Ralston talked about the significance of the bipartisan passage last year of a hate crimes law after the May release of a horrific video showing Arbery’s killing after getting chased by white men down a Brunswick-area street.  

“We gather here each year to honor the life of Dr. King with our words, but I believe now more than ever state leaders should seek to honor his legacy with actions as well,” Kemp said.