Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at the 10th Annual MLK Day Rally and March on January 21, 2013. The event was held at Central United Methodist Church. (Photo: Valerie Jean), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
10th Annual MLK Day Focuses on Labor and Repression
Five decades of struggle honored for renewed efforts to defeat right-to-work and police brutality
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
MLK Day in Detroit featured speakers from the labor movement and community organizations involved in efforts locally, nationally and internationally. The event, started in 2004 in the early phase of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations by the United States, has sought over the years to reclaim the peace and social justice legacy of the martyred civil rights leader slain on April 4, 1968.
During 2004, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) raised the slogan: “Money for Our Cities, Not for War.” This slogan has become even more relevant in 2013 with the imposition of right-to-work laws in the state and the appointment of emergency management and financial stability agreements.
This year’s event, organized by a broader Detroit MLK Committee, marked the 50th anniversary of the “Great March to Freedom” in Detroit where 250,000 or more walked down Woodward Avenue demanding jobs and civil rights. The 1963 march commemorated the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 20 year anniversary of the 1943 Detroit racial disturbances.
The demonstration five decades ago, held on June 23, 1963, was the scene where Dr. King first delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at Cobo Hall. Later that summer on August 28, the historic “March on Washington” was held and Dr. King once again reiterated his dream of equality and freedom.
The first speaker to address the large gathering of activists at the Historic Central United Methodist Church, pastored by Rev. Edwin Rowe, was Chris Michalakis, President of the Detroit Metro AFL-CIO, who emphasized the need to continue the campaign against draconian anti-labor bills passed at the State Capitol in Lansing by the right-wing legislators and signed by the multi-millionaire Gov. Rick Snyder. Other labor organizations co-sponsored and endorsed the rally including UAW Local 140 Civil & Human Rights Committee, UAW Local 160 President Jerry Gillespie and the UAW Region 1 Women’s Council Civil & Human Rights Division.
Additional speakers included Prof. Charles Simmons of Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and a former senior correspondent for the Muhammad Speaks newspaper during the 1960s and 1970s. Also Rev. Sandra Simmons of Hush House, a community art gallery and historical archive, spoke to the audience as well.
Later Mrs. Anita Peek, the Executive Director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, announced the upcoming commemorations surrounding the 100th birthday of the late Rosa Parks, whose arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, ushering in the mass civil rights movement of the period. Parks lived in Detroit for many years where she worked in the offices of Cong. John Conyers, the architect of the legislation that led to the federally-recognized holiday in honor of Dr. King beginning in 1986.
Anti-foreclosure Attys. Vanessa Fluker and Jerome Goldberg reemphasized the need for a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. Goldberg announced an upcoming meeting of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs which is taking up the underlying reasons behind the current crisis in Detroit.
“It is the banks which have caused the depopulation and indebtedness of Detroit,” Goldberg told the crowd. He pointed to the need to demand a moratorium on debt-service payments to the banks and announced that his organization has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA) to the City of Detroit Law Department to expose the criminal role of the banks as the source of the economic crisis in the municipality.
Pastor D. Alexander Bullock of the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church also addressed the audience. Bullock is a local leader of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition headed by Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The keynote speaker for the rally was Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, President of the Baltimore Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization founded by Dr. King and his colleagues in 1957. Witherspoon paid tribute to Ms. Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was slain by a Detroit police officer during a raid on the wrong apartment in May 2010.
Jones was called up to the pulpit where she left a photograph of Aiyana during Witherspoon’s address. Witherspoon discussed the police terrorism plaguing the community in Baltimore and pledged solidarity with similar struggles in Detroit.
One of the high points of the rally was a solidarity statement delivered by injured former Colombian autoworker Jorge Parra, who has been on a hunger strike for over two months demanding justice for the fired employees in Colombia that General Motors, headquartered in Detroit, has refused to hold serious discussions aimed at winning compensation for the injured workers.
The participants then marched through downtown Detroit chanting pro-labor and community slogans. The demonstration passed the International Auto Show at Cobo Convention Center where protesters denounced right-to-work legislation recently passed in the state.
MLK Day concluded with a community meal served by the Detroit Wobbly Kitchen and Food Not Bombs on the second floor of Central Church. A cultural program was then held which was coordinated by Broadside Poet Aurora Harris featuring artists including In the Tradition and the Recovery Band.