Martin Luther King Day demonstration in downtown Detroit where more than a thousand people called for the end to the Iraq war, racism and poverty. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash, WW)
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
Over 1,000 rally and march in tribute to King's legacy
By Abayomi Azikiwe
15 Jan. 2007 (PANW)--Nearly fourty years ago on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic address dubbed "Beyond Vietnam" at the Riverside Church in New York City.
Some four decades later the ruling class in the United States has still not learned the lessons of the 1960s, that the theory of overwhelming military force is no guarantee of victory against a determined people's resistance movement.
Yesterday's fourth annual rally and march in downtown Detroit illustrated that significant numbers of people are willing to come out and express their opposition to the Bush administration's policy of imperialist war against the peoples of the world as well as the attempts to intensify the exploitation of poor and working people here in the United States.
Rev. Ed Rowe, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church, where the rally was held, began the event on Monday by blasting those elements in the white community who voted yes on Proposal 2, a ballot initiative that outlawed affirmative action in the state. "There were people who said they were with us, yet in the privacy of the voting booth, they voted to maintain white privilige."
Rowe, who has been Pastor at Central United Methodist Church for many years, recognized the historic significance of the location of the annual MLK Day gathering. "Dr. King spoke from this pulpit many times during his life," said Rowe."
"Just a few weeks before his death, Dr. King delivered the annual Lent sermon from Central United Methodist Church."
Congressman John Conyers, the recently-elected chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the architect of the King Holiday Bill introduced just four days after his assassination on April 4, 1968, addressed the crowd on the long years of struggle to implement the federally-recognized holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader. He talked about how Stevie Wonder led marches in Washington, D.C. during the early 1980s to apply pressure on Congress to pass the bill that recognized an African-American as a major contributor to the history of America.
The day's keynote speaker was the renowned author and columnist, Marianne Williamson, who talked about the significance of King's philosophy of non-violence and the influence of Ghandi on his ideas. Williamson said that her father was very moved by Dr. King and felt that his death was planned by elements in the United States opposed to his postions against the Vietnam war and the existence of mass poverty.
"I was thinking that Martin Luther King would be 78 today," Williamson said. "Even if he had lived, it would be time for him to rest. Like he was, we must be strong in our political activism, but we must be spiritual activists as well."
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was the 2007 "MLK Spirit of Detroit Award" recipient. Bishop Gumbleton's long years of service as an advocate against war, racism and social injustice has earned him respect throughout the United States and the world.
This year's event was graced by the presence of Detroit artist Alice Smith, who constructed a monument to the martyred civil rights leader that sits on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Rosa Parks Blvd. on the city's west side. Smith is originally from Birmingham, Alabama where King waged a monumental struggle to end segregation in 1963.
Smith is an alumni of the Center for Creative Studies and received her master's degree from Wayne State University in Art. Smith created the work of art given to the Bishop by the Detroit MLK Committee.
"War always leaves behind a trail of resentment that makes us forget why we started in the first place," Gumbleton said. "War makes no sense. It's evil."
Rosendo Delgado, of Latinos Unidos, an immigrant rights organization based in southwest Detroit, addressed the rally calling for support of the upcoming May 1 national day of protest for immigration rights. Latinos Unidos had worked with the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) for two weekends in southwest Detroit to mobilize people for the MLK march. The leaflet advertising the day was translated into Spanish and circulated broadly in the Latino community. A sound car had gone through sections of the Latino community calling for their support for this year's MLK day activities.
City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson spoke right before the rally participants left for the march through downtown. Watson, who was introduced as the conscience of the Detroit City Council, recalled how she had marched down Woodward avenue with her grandparents on June 20, 1963 in the infamous "Walk to Freedom." This was the first massive demonstration for social justice held during this era in the United States.
Watson said that: "The march in Detroit, which really attracted more people than the march on Washington two months later, was the scene of King's first 'I Have a Dream' speech. When the march took place in Detroit, people knew that it was possible in the nation's capital."
The City Councilwoman reflected on some of the personalities involved in the Detroit march of 1963 such as Rev. C.L. Franklin of New Bethel Baptist Church, Waler Reuther of the UAW and James Del Rio, an educator, real estate broker and later State Legislator and Judge.
In a statement issued by her office in honor of MLK Day, she said that: "Dr. King made a profound and courageous speech in April of 1967 breaking the silence of dissent against the war in Viet Nam. I recall it now because the import of such historic moments today is how we apply their moral and political lessons to our own situation. In reality, we are practicing elementary principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy in resurrecting his voice for peace in 2007. Wouldn't that be what he would want us to do? Oppose these wars in his name."
March through downtown Detroit
The huge crowd then filed out of the church and lined up along Woodward avenue for a march through downtown. The marchers headed down Washington Blvd. past the Cobo Conference Center where the International Auto Show is being held.
Chanting anti-war, anti-poverty and anti-racist slogans, the group attracted the attention of the thousands of people attending the annual display of the world automotive industry. The marchers then returned to Central United Methodist Church where they enjoyed performances by the Mosaic Youth Choir of Detroit, the Ladywood High School Choir of Livonia, the Booth Dance Troupe of Detroit and selected essays and poems submitted to the annual MLK writing and art contest.
The MLK Committee received over 600 essays and works of art for this year's commemoration. Art work was displayed throughout the church which was also decorated with photographs of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and banners calling for the end of the war policies of the Bush administration.
The afternoon portion of the program featured Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization as chair. Debbie Johnson of the Detroit Action Network for Reproductive Rights (DANFORR)delivered an impassioned speech on the need to struggle to maintain the advancement made by the civil rights and labor movements of the last five decades.
The MLK Day rally and march is one of the most significant political events that occur annually in Detroit. The event was started by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) in 2004. The sponsorship of the event expanded with the formation of the Detroit MLK Day Planning Committee which takes responsibility along with Central United Methodist Church for organizing the event each year.
This year MECAWI produced dozens of signs saying: "We Won't Go Back: Fight Racism." In addition, MECAWI produced hundreds of buttons that put forward the slogan: "Fight Racism." These efforts were in response to the passage of Proposal 2, the anti-affirmative action measure. During the march, demonstrators expressed their commitment to end racism despite the passage of this measure.
2007's MLK Day event was co-sponsored an endorsed by a number of organizations including: the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, the Cranbrook Peace Foundation, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, the Department of Peace, the Detroit Wobbly Kitchen, Olympia Entertainment, St. John's Episcopal Church, Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center & Art Gallery, UAW Local 1700, Unite Here! Local 24, Centro Obrero, Coalition for Corporate Justice, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Detroit Radio Information Service, Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment, Interfaith Committee on Workers Issues, Jewish Voices for Peace, Detroit, Palestine Office of Michigan, St. Leo Parish Community, Detroit, US- Cuba Labor Exchange, Veterans for Peace, Women's Conference of Concerns, Workers World Party, Latinos Unidos de Michigan, Metropolitan United Methodist Church, International Action Center, Advocates for Informed Nonviolent Social Change, among others.