Southern Crescent celebrates Dr. King
Parades, speeches, highlight observances

By Joel Hall

and Valerie Baldowski


The Southern Crescent is taking every opportunity to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Various events in Clayton and Henry counties offer opportunities for residents to pay tribute to the slain civil-rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

The highlight of events in Clayton County will be the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Parade in Jonesboro. The parade, marking its ninth year, will take place on Monday, Jan. 19, at noon. It begins at Government Circle, and will make its way through downtown Jonesboro.

Herman Turner, the parade's organizer, expects a large turnout, given the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, the county's first African-American president.

"It means a lot, because it is a history-making event and history-making time," he said. "People have always been interested in being a part of it, but I think it will be even more with the inauguration happening the next day. I think it will add to the energy."

Turner said he expects this year's parade to have between 50 and 60 entries, featuring local politicians, community leaders, churches, non-profit groups, and several high school bands. The Tuskegee Airmen are also scheduled to make an appearance.

Parade entrants will line up at 10 a.m., and leave promptly at noon, said Turner.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, from noon to 1 p.m., the National Archives and Records Administration, Southeast Region in Morrow, will host a special viewing of the documentary film, "At the River I Stand." The film recalls the final days of King's life, before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., while joining a strike by sanitation workers.

After the 55-minute documentary, visitors will be able to receive copies of the injunction the city of Memphis filed in 1968, in order to prevent the strike. The movie is free, and open to the public.

Next week, Clayton State University will host a number of events highlighting and honoring the life of King. Those events will include: The seventh annual Freedom Run 10K and 5K, sponsored by the Southlake Kiwanis Club and Clayton State University; an MLK Rally and March on the university's quadrangle; and a keynote address at Spivey Hall.

Registration for the Freedom Run 10K and 5K road races will take place Monday, Jan. 19, from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m., in the Athletics and Fitness Center, located at 2000 Clayton State Boulevard in Morrow. Runners will take off through the streets of Morrow and Lake City starting at 9 a.m.

An MLK Rally and March will take place on Thursday, Jan. 22, starting at 5:30 p.m.,, at the university center quadrangle. John Eaves, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, will give a keynote address following the rally. The address is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., at Spivey Hall, and will be preceded by a reception in the lobby of the concert hall at 6:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Henry County groups and officials are putting the finishing touches on preparations for their King Day celebrations.

A parade is scheduled for Monday in McDonough, starting at 9 a.m., at Henry County High School. Marchers will circle The Square, and end up at the performing arts center. McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland will be one of the marchers, said Leslie Balog, assistant to the mayor.

At the conclusion of the parade, Copeland will present a proclamation officially recognizing Martin Luther King Day in McDonough.

Many others in the parade will be from local schools in the Henry County school system.

LaSonji Rivers, one of the parade's organizers, said support for the annual event continues to increase. "It grows every year, and expands to other cities and counties," said Rivers, who has helped organize the parade the last two years.

The most enjoyable aspect of the parade, Rivers said, is the chance to see the willingness and eagerness of children to participate.

There also are activities scheduled for Sunday, such as the 2009 Henry County Youth MLK Celebration at 3 p.m., at Shiloh Baptist Church in McDonough.

Mayor Copeland will attend and extend greetings on behalf of the city. Robert Taylor, III, youth pastor for the Holy Energetic Aggressive Teens ministry, will be the speaker for the event.

Rev. Taylor said Sunday's program will have a theme of "Keep The Dream Alive." His personal message to the youths in attendance, he said, will focus on taking that general message and applying it to their own lives.

The collective message of "Keep The Dream Alive" is important, he said, but it needs to be specifically directed to the next generation as an inspirational, educational tool. "It really is relevant," Taylor said.

The celebration at Shiloh is sponsored by McDonough City Councilmember Rufus Stewart, who coordinates speakers for MLK Day programs every year at various churches.

Stewart hopes this year's program will attract enough young people to fill the church. The event is an important way to remember King's contributions, he said.

"It is very important to let our young folks know about ... history," he said.