Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, chairing the Detroit 9th Annual MLK Day Rally & March held at Central United Methodist Church downtown on January 16, 2012. The event featured women from SNCC., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Detroit MLK Day Focuses on Women, Civil Rights & the Struggle Ahead
SNCC, Freedom Riders, labor women address over 1000 people
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
For the 9th consecutive year the Detroit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally & March was held at the Central United Methodist Church downtown. The historic church, where Dr. King delivered numerous speeches, remains a supporter of contemporary social justice and peace activities through its leader Rev. Ed Rowe.
The event began in 2004 when the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) set out to reclaim the genuine legacy of the civil leader who was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. What is deliberately overlooked every MLK Day holiday is the principled stand Dr. King took during 1967-68 against the United States war in Vietnam and the necessity that the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) saw in linking the fight to end racism and war with the need to eliminate poverty.
This year there was a focus on the role of women in the civil rights movement of the 1960s with a panel of women who were all members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), considered the most militant organization of the period that grew out of the southern struggle to end legalized segregation and disenfranchisement. Four panelists, all of whom were contributors and co-editors of “Hands on the Freedom Plow,” a first-person account on the role of women within SNCC, were featured speakers during the rally.
These women were: Prof. Gloria House, who worked in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1965-66 as the Black Power movement emerged, Dr. Gwen Patton, who participated in the Montgomery civil rights struggles during the period, Marilyn Lowen, who worked in Mississippi with local communities fighting racism and disempowerment, and Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, a participant in various organizing efforts in Mississippi.
In addition to the women from SNCC, the highest ranking woman within the United States labor movement, Arlene Holt Baker, who is the Executive Vice-President of the AFL-CIO, addressed the crowd. Other speakers during the rally included Aurora Harris, a community activist, poet and board member of Broadside Press, and John Hardy, a former Freedom Rider and activist with SNCC during 1960-63.
The theme for this year’s event was “The Struggle Escalates for Jobs, Peace & Justice.” A march was held through downtown Detroit enjoying significant participation from labor and youth.
The national AFL-CIO simultaneously was holding its annual MLK weekend conference in the city and joined in with the Detroit actions as an act of solidarity and unity. The march also enjoyed the support of area students and a socialist contingent of youth held banners and chanted anti-capitalist slogans.
Each year the planning committee presents a “MLK Spirit of Detroit” award to deserving activists and individuals. This year the award went to the organizers and participants of “Occupy Detroit.”
One other major issue advanced during the rally and demonstration was the threat of emergency management by the state of Michigan over the city of Detroit. An insertion produced by the MLK Committee entitled “Hard Fought Right to Vote Under Attack,” stated that “Almost 47 years after the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, voting rights are again under attack by racist political forces in the U.S.”
The statement continues noting that “The intent of the Voting Rights Act was to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which were passed after the Civil War and guaranteed the right to vote for African Americans and other minorities. In 1964, the 24th Amendment was passed, which prohibited the use of the poll tax, that is, a tax that must be paid in order to vote.”
With specific reference to the current situation facing Detroit and other majority African American cities in Michigan, the statement says that “The main task of the Emergency Manager is to make sure that the banks and bondholders get paid, period. The EM has no accountability to the citizens of the city it manages, and citizens have NO Voice in the decisions made by the EM. “
After the march, there was a community dinner served to hundreds of people on the second floor of Central Church which was prepared by the Wobbly Kitchen, Food Not Bombs, Avalon Bakery and Occupy Detroit. Following the dinner, a spectacular cultural program was held that was organized by Writer L. Bush, a local poet and activist in Occupy Detroit.
Cultural workers who presented during the concluding segment of the day included: Sista Otis, Jessica Care Moore, The DdJ Trio, Markita Moore, Tracey Morris, among others. During the earlier rally and march, the Mosaic Youth Choir, the Deep River Choir and the Matrix Theater made important contributions.
In addition to the work of the Detroit MLK Committee, numerous groups co-sponsored and endorsed the event. These groups included the Veterans for Peace, Chapter 74, Swords Into Plowshares, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs, the Advocates for Informed Nonviolent Social Change, the Detroit Green Party, the Jamaica Project, Broadside Press, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, and other local organizations.