Hope, love and a fearless telling of the truth — that’s just some of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy meant for the performers at Saturday’s celebration of Dr. King’s life at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center.
Performers read from Dr. King’s speeches and letters, sang and danced, shared history and delivered a video tribute to King’s life. More than 100 people attended the celebration at the PAEC, hosted by the City of Federal Way Diversity Commission on Jan. 14.
Performers also referenced Dr. King’s “Beloved Community” — a vision of society King sought in which all people are free from poverty, homelessness, prejudice and war, and conflicts are solved through reconciliation and understanding.
Speakers young and old took to the stage to read from King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, even adding in a local reference.
“Let freedom ring … from the Cascade Mountains of Washington to the Olympic Mountains of Federal Way,” a speaker declared as the audience burst in applause.
Princess Grant delivered the Black National Anthem, and Pamela Bowman sung Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.”
Sacajawea Middle School students gave a presentation on King’s life, and members of the Happy Dance Studio performed a traditional Chinese dance, sharing a message of unity of the human race. Evergreen Middle School students shared quotes from King’s life, including his thoughts on the “appalling silence” of those who sat out the moral conflict of the civil rights era and the “hottest place in hell” reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great conflict.
Illahee Middle School’s Royal Steppers performed to rousing applause, as did Channon Hopson with an original speech on Dr. King’s life. Rajan Winzer and Harmony Howard rapped and sang the original composition “Dreams,” and Tah-Jae Shante belted out “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. Decatur High School’s Cam Clark put together a video tribute of King’s life.
The world looks quite different than it did 55 years ago, when King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. But his message, delivered and personalized through the performances, still rings true: Our society still has a lot of work to do before we achieve real justice and a lasting peace.
“We’ve come here to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideals he worked so eloquently for, and sacrificed his life for,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said during his speech opening the program. “We know the struggle is not over.”
DR. KING’S WORK
King, a Baptist minister and son of another early civil rights leader and minister, became a national icon for his campaign of non-violent protests and civil disobedience, which demonstrated the sharp contrast between the moral bankruptcy and plain cruelty of white supremacists and segregationists and the resistance of Black Americans and their allies.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s of which King was a champion led to the most major legislative and judicial advances in American civil rights in nearly a century.
The Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that allowed racial segregation to flourish in public schools (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954), held that private businesses can be prohibited from racial and other kinds of discrimination (Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc v. United States, 1964) and established protections for interracial marriages (Loving v. Virginia, 1967).
In Congress, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, prohibiting racial segregation and unfair application of voter registration rules. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination in voting, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, signed in the aftermath of King’s assassination, allowed the prosecution of hate crimes, prohibited discrimination when selling, renting or financing housing and expanded much of the Bill of Rights to Native American tribes.
Taken together, those laws and court rulings were a leap forward in civil rights, creating a new foundation of legal protections against racism and other forms of discrimination on which modern-day civil rights activists continue to build.
In the final years of his life, King broadened his activism to include the hardships and indignities faced by lower-income Americans, criticism of American capitalism and opposition to the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. He became a target of FBI investigation and spying starting in 1963 and until his death, an operation that included a threatening letter sent anonymously by the FBI in 1964 that tried to blackmail King.
On April 4, 1968, while planning the Poor People’s Campaign, King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray was convicted of King’s assassination the following year.
Dr. King’s memory lives on, and his influence reaches locally, too.
King County, originally named after former Vice President and cotton plantation slave owner William R. King, was rededicated by the county council in 1986 to make its namesake Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The change was made official in 2005 by the state legislature and the signature of Gov. Christine Gregoire.