Remembering the dream

Candlelight march, meals and speeches honor MLK Jr.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:46 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

It felt like a member of his family died.

Arthur Lewis remembers the day Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Lewis was 15 on April 4, 1968.

“I wish the younger kids could understand,” Lewis said as he mingled with patrons of Sharp End Restaurant. “He was good for everyone.

From speeches and meals to a candlelight march, Columbia observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

But many adults share Lewis’ sentiments: Kids don’t get it.

Bill Thompson, co-director of the Martin Luther King Memorial Association, said he young people have a lot to learn.

“I think what’s happening is that society is allowing young people not to think of the struggles that preceded them,” Thompson said.

Thompson helped organize the 32nd annual candlelight march from Douglass High School to Second Baptist Church. Not far away, the Sharp End restaurant, 609 N. Garth Ave., offered a “Poor People’s Meal.” Food wasn’t free, but for the 13th year the restaurant offered a discounted breakfast and lunch in King’s honor.

At 12:30 p.m., condensation streamed down the restaurant’s large front windows. A thick aroma of fried chicken coiled through conversations and clanging plates. Racial issues slipped into the conversation.

“Racism is systemic to this country,” said Columbia resident Arch Brooks, as he finished lunch. “It’s an American disease. It’s about as backwards as it can get.”

Brooks was eating with Columbia resident Becky Shelby and John Wayne Turner, president of Turner Paving and Construction.

Turner said he has experienced discrimination at work, particularly when trying to get contracts. The pair discussed solutions similar to those King worked toward for years.

“First and foremost, be fair,” Brooks said.

“That’s all we want,” Turner said. “That’s all we’ve ever wanted.”

More than 200 people at Second Missionary Baptist Church at noon Monday seemed to feel there is hope for the future. Columbia leaders, politicians and community members of many races were present to celebrate King’s dream at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Annual Memorial Service.

University of Missouri system President Elson Floyd spoke about the importance of promoting diversity and improving education in a nation facing tough times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The time is now, and the urgency is immediate,” Floyd said to a crowd that welcomed him with a standing ovation.

Floyd peppered his speech with anecdotes, starting with a historical reference that made the packed church burst into laughter.

“Like Henry VIII said to his six wives, I won’t keep you long,” Floyd said.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said the country could use King now, as he would probably speak against the war in Iraq and concealed weapons.

Further down Broadway, several hours later, Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman, MU advertising professor Cynthia Frisby and Stephens College student Yashunda Gift received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Outstanding Service. The awards honor people who embody the values of King, including peace, leadership and service.

Hindman and at least 50 others ended the day with the candlelight march and service at Second Baptist Church. Columbia resident Tracy Edwards observed the diverse crowd in Douglass High School’s gymnasium, where the chilly march began.

Edwards is optimistic about Columbia’s race relations.

“The dream says that one day we’ll come together and play together,” Edwards said. “Here we are together now. I’m not seeing colors, I’m seeing people.”

Missourian reporters Brenden Clawson and Cristian Lupsa contributed to this report.

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