Prayers, parades to celebrate King Day

By Clay Wilson

Although his part in it was cut short by an assassin's bullet 35 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream will live on in Clayton and Henry counties as thousands observe his birthday Monday.

"We don't consider it a day off. We consider it a day on," said Clayton resident Gail Davenport, echoing an admonition from the King Center a few years ago.

Davenport and others have been working for months to ensure that the activities held to commemorate King's birthday are worthy of his legacy.

"Dr. King has contributed so much to this country. He changed the course of history, and he did it non-violently," Davenport said. "Out of sheer respect – we felt it was necessary for us to recommit ourselves to his work."

Davenport, president of the Concerned Black Citizens Coalition of Clayton County, has been helping to coordinate the Coalition's 19th annual Clayton County Ecumenical Service. The service has been a yearly tradition since King's birthday became a national holiday.

According to Davenport, representatives of about 20 churches are expected to attend the Sunday afternoon service at Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church in Jonesboro.

This year's speaker will be Michael Battle, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. Battle, who has degrees from Trinity College and Duke and Howard universities, has published several books and articles, including one titled "How Far Have We Come Since King?" in Duke's 1993 Journal of Black Sacred Music.

The service comes on the heels of Saturday morning's 13th annual prayer breakfast, also sponsored by the Concerned Black Citizens Coalition.

"We pray that Dr. King's work will be remembered, and we pray that people will go out and help someone else," said Davenport.

In both Clayton and Henry counties, Monday will be marked with music, marching and a message.

In Clayton, the King Day parade is being sponsored by the Masons of Elijah Summit Lodge #309, the F. & A.A. York Masons and the Eastern Stars of Electra Special Chapter #109. This year's theme is "Still Standing Together for the Future."

According to Worshipful Master Herman Turner, the Masons took on the parade five years ago when former Clayton NAACP President Rev. Joseph Wheeler originated it.

"To this point last year's was the biggest of all, and I know (this year's is) going to about equal last year's," Turner said.

The parade, which will begin at noon in Jonesboro, will include entries from about 70 organizations. The approximately half-mile route begins at Government Circle and ends at the Lee Street Recreation Area.

Henry County's parade will begin at 10 a.m. at the corner of East Atlanta and Fairview roads. It will proceed about two miles to Hidden Valley Park.

The Rev. Robert Davison of Ellenwood said he has been on the parade committee for all three years of its existence. This year he volunteered to be the chairman. The theme of the event is "From Montgomery, to Birmingham, to Henry County."

Davison said that so far, 20 organizations have committed to be in the parade.

For the first time this year, the parade will include the multi-award-winning Stockbridge High School Marching Band. The SHS Basketball Cheerleading Squad will also take part. As it did last year, the color guard of the school's Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps will participate.

"We got a strong commitment from the schools and government officials this year," Davison said.

Among the guests Davison listed as planning to attend the observance are Henry County Schools Superintendent Jack Parish, county Public Safety Director Rob Magnaghi, state court Judge Ben Studdard and Flint Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tommy Floyd.

Georgia House District 33 Rep. Alisha Thomas (D-Austell) will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony following the parade.

Davison said the committee has been working in earnest on the parade since the middle of last year.

"I'm getting very excited," he said. "I think this is going to be the best one yet."