Inside Life: MLK III says ‘no celebration without legislation’

A birthday fit for a king
Associated Press / Eric Gay

On the holiday named in honor of his father Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the benefactor of his legacy of Civil Rights activism is advocating for “no celebration” without reforms to two voting legislative acts pending in the House of Representatives.

Instead of the annual national festive commemorative celebrations, the activist proposes alternative action demanding the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom To Vote Act.

The latter would make it easier to register to vote, make Election Day a public holiday, and ensure states have early voting for federal elections allowing all voters to request mail-in ballots, among other provisions.

King’s intention is to nudge President Joe Biden and legislators to act swiftly to enact the bill which is named in honor of the late civil rights icon and late Georgia congressman and also fight voter suppression.

The aim is also to restore provisions Dr. MLK achieved with the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“President Biden and Congress used their political muscle to deliver a vital infrastructure deal, and now we are calling on them to do the same to restore the very voting rights protections my father and countless other civil rights leaders bled to secure,” Martin Luther King III said.

Along with his wife Arndrea Waters King and their daughter Yolanda Renee King who issued a joint statement said he “will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father’s dream for a more equal and just America.”

Together the family plan to mobilize supporters of the MLK ideals on the weekend preceding Jan. 17 by urging Democrats to influence Republicans in advancing the federal voting rights bills with the same vigor they mustered to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

“You delivered for bridges, now deliver for voting rights.”

In order to dramatize the parallels between the issues, King family members will join activists in Phoenix, Arizona on the actual Jan. 15 birthdate of MLK to rally support for the initiative by marching across a bridge in the city to make comparisons with MLK’s historic and daring 1965 challenge to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The gesture they claim will “restore and expand voting rights to honor Dr. King’s legacy.”

More than five decades ago, MLK and supporters faced southern racists in the state in order to secure voting rights denied to Black Americans there.

Allegedly, the western location was chosen because Arizona maintains “draconian” voting rights law, with provisions which were upheld by the US Supreme Court last year.

Those provisions allegedly limit the ability of minority voters to challenge state laws under the Voting Rights Act.

The family will continue a public lobbying on the federal holiday of commemoration by marching across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC.

“If we’re really talking about celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., voting rights was a cornerstone of his legacy,” Waters King added.

“We cannot simply in good faith celebrate him or celebrate that legacy with this current attack on access to the ballot box.”

Traditionally regarded as a national day of service, throughout the years communities have adopted initiatives to express MLK’s dream of bettering America.

However, this year, the family contends that there’s “no better way to observe the King holiday” than to exercise democracy and civil rights.

Their actions along with those of a coalition of more than 80 groups will call on the president and the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act they believe will “ensure the Jim Crow filibuster doesn’t stand in the way.”

Meanwhile, despite surging infections from the Omicron variant, BAM will be forging ahead with their 36th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a live and lively celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. 

Beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, the usually impressive program will maintain its alluring speakers’ roster which includes Antonio Reynos0, the borough’s first elected Latino president, Eric Adams, NYC’s second-elected Black mayor, Sen. Charles Schumer, the reliable Jewish senior senator and an even more diverse slate representing the city and state legislatures.

“We’re thrilled to welcome the community back as we uplift one another and unite in celebration of Dr. King’s enduring legacy and its relevance today,” Coco Killingsworth, co-interim president of BAM said.

“Brooklyn’s beloved tradition was established a year after Dr. King’s birthday was recognized as a national holiday, and 36 years later, his convictions remain an indelible force for equality, dignity, and justice.”

“This year we are expanding our celebration to include more programs and events at a moment when we so deeply need to channel Dr. King’s legacy, leadership, and lessons.”

In addition to messages from key elected officials, the 2022 keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Imani Perry.

The critically acclaimed author and cultural historian will deliver her perspective on “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.”

According to BAM spokespersons; ‘Perry’s work reflects the deeply complex history of Black thought, art, and imagination. As an educator — both at the university level and in the larger public sphere — her work emphasizes the interplay between history, race, law, and culture and highlights the importance of applying the lessons of modern history to our present struggle, whether to challenge or to celebrate.’

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