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January 22, 2013

HONORING HEROES

Locals celebrate lives of MLK, Stacy Hunter, see President Barack Obama sworn back into office

JACKSONVILLE —  Several hundred adults and children marched roughly a mile Monday in celebration of the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. –  all the while discussing the second-term inauguration of Barack Obama and the recent loss of community leader Stacy Dewayne Hunter.

The “Martin Luther King. Jr. Day” march was followed by an impassioned church service.

As he walked, march organizer A.J. Rhodes said having a second-term chief executive such as President Obama, the first black president, is is a point of great pride.

But losing someone such as precious as Stacy Hunter –  a highly-respected community leader tragically slain during an October robbery – was unthinkable.

"I know Stacy will be greatly missed – he really gave us hope," Rhodes said. "I don't know what we'll do if there is no one who can take his place."

Monday was a beautiful day for parade participants. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and temperatures were fairly mild as marchers and a police escort made their way up Commerce Street.

"We shall overcome" was the song of the day as smiling children and adults waved enthusiastically to bystanders.

Hooking a right, the crowd continued to Sweet Union Baptist Church on Main Street, where an extensive ceremony awaited in honor of King, a Gandhian pacifist. There were beautiful interpretive dances, speeches recited by children, plus much singing and applause. Several area churches contributed to the ceremony.

Instead of MLK's  traditional "I have a dream” speech, Minister Jason People with Church Hill CME instead read from King's dramatic life-or-death oratory, "If I had sneezed."

This speech by Dr. King recounted how he had been stabbed by Izola Ware Curry, a mentally disturbed African American woman, on Sept. 20, 1958.

At the time, Dr. King  was signing copies of his book "Toward Freedom" at Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem, New York.  

"The only thing I heard was, 'Are you Martin Luther King?'" said People, expertly mimicking Dr, King's speaking style. "I was looking down writing and I said 'yes.'"

Curry drove a seven-inch steel letter opener into the upper left side of Dr. King's chest, necessitating a two-and-half hour surgery at Harlem Hospital to save his life.

Doctors at the time said if Dr King had sneezed or coughed before the weapon could be removed, it would have penetrated the aorta.

In other words, King was basically "a sneeze away from death.”

"Once the aorta is punctured, "you drown in your own blood. That's the end of you," King said in his speech.

While he was convalescing, kind letters poured in to Dr. King. However, there was one in particular that truly touched him. It came from a young girl who was a high school student and had read in the paper how he had been attacked. While she did not think it mattered, the girl also pointed out she was white.

"I read that if you had sneezed you would have died," the girl wrote. "I am writing to say I am so happy you did not sneeze."

Had Dr. King sneezed, he wouldn't have been around to be part of the many accomplishments of the civil rights movement, including organized nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Ala.,  and the the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

During Monday's church ceremony, guest speaker Reverend Kenneth Cain of Benson Memorial CME Church quoted from Davis Guggenheim's passionate documentary about the state of the nation's public schools, "Waiting for Superman."

Cain said the point he took from the documentary is that African Americans need to learn how to help themselves and take care of their own problems because no one, especially a superhero, is going to swoop down out of the sky to save them.

Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, and posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

Numerous streets across the country have been named in honor of Dr. King. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was created as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.  Additionally, in 2011, a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial statue in Washington, D.C. was unveiled.

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