On Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday, SCLC Needs New Generation, New Blood

An annual unity mass rally sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Tuscaloosa fell short in promoting a forward-looking vision for civil rights work in 2013.

In the spirit of “lead by example,”  I joined my University of Alabama students today in attending AT LEAST ONE event connected with the national celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Roy Ferguson, SCLC Tuscaloosa

My hope is that with the assignment, the students will be exposed to the whole impact that Dr. King has had on the country more than 40 years after his death.

Sadly, this year’s  Unity Mass rally, sponsored by the Tuscaloosa chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, did not deliver on the goals I had set for my students, who would have experienced this.

I’m glad none of them attended this particular event.

In fact,  at 42, I was probably one of the youngest in the audience of about 200 at Tuscaloosa’s historic First African Baptist Church tonight.

Here in Tuscaloosa, besides the Realizing the Dream committee, affiliated with the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is the lead organizer of a series of events on the King National Holiday.

SCLC President Rev. Roy Ferguson told his story of confronting the national guard on the night of Dr. King’s death in April of 1968.  At the time, Ferguson was a student at what was then Mississippi Valley State College.

Most of thoskingheadshote in attendance were alive at the time.   Many were involved in the civil rights era demonstrations here in Tuscaloosa.

But, for those like me and my students who were born after the civil rights era,  commemorative events like the annual mass rally are important educational opportunities.

They are more than an annual tradition.  As much as they are about reminding attendees of where African Americans (and the country) have come from, they MUST be about where we as a nation are going.

Tonight’s mass rally spoke little about the CURRENT efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  No specific programmatic thrusts were outlined.

Many of these thrusts are mentioned on the SCLC national Web site.  (Note: The current SCLC National President Charles Steele is from Tuscaloosa)

Why should a young person care about the SCLC or any other civil rights organization NOW in 2013?

Tuscaloosa’s Civil Rights History Need NOT be a mystery

As one of the ministers speaking tonight mentioned,  it’s critical that those who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement make sure children who come behind them know how we got to where we are today.

“We need to make sure and get some young people to fill this church the way it used to be,” said Earnest L. Palmer, senior pastor of Cornerstone Full Gospel Baptist Church, who presided over tonight’s program.

My University of Alabama students have a writing assignment due this week that will explain the significance of their chosen event to their understanding of race and the sense of community.

In the few years I’ve been in Tuscaloosa, I’ve learned that First African was significant because of its use of as a rallying point for efforts to confront such things as “Whites Only” signs at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse in the 1960s.

This was the church where on the same month as he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” 50 years ago this year,  Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. delivered the installation sermon for Rev. T.Y. Rogers, as the new pastor of First African Baptist Church.

A year later in 1964, this same church was besieged by firehoses and tear gas as local police attempted to break up a rally and arrest protesters.

SCLCSo Why is the SCLC Needed Now?

Each year when the nation pauses to remember and celebrate the work of Dr. King, we are equally as reminded of his work for justice, freedom and equality must continue in the year ahead.

The keynote speaker at the unity mass rally Rev. James Williams of Newbern, Ala,  did note issues such as dropout rate, teen pregnancy, gun violence are issues that are of importance to the SCLC.

Unfortunately, just mentioning these issues as Rev. Williams did with the question “Are You Satisfied?”  is not enough.

It’s not enough to keep a new generation like my current college student crowd engaged.

It’s not enough to rally the finances and memberships to propel the work of the SCLC forward.

Following the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950s,  the SCLC was started by a group of ministers.

Today, Tuscaloosa has no shortage of ministers.   Many of them gathered at the mass rally tonight.

But, there was no real “Call to Action” from these men of faith, only a plea for those in attendance to pay the SCLC  $25 membership fee.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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