CHAPEL HILL — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated Monday in Chapel Hill with marching, singing, poetry and words of remembrance, along with calls to action to support a Democratic political agenda.
About 125 people gathered at Peace and Justice Plaza outside the Franklin Street post office to remember the man instrumental in bringing equal rights to black people. The group then marched about a half mile down Franklin Street to First Baptist Church on North Roberson Street for a speech by former state Rep. Larry Hall. The annual event was sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
Guest speakers included representatives from the Orange County Democratic Party, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, Occupy Chapel Hill-Carrboro and The Frederick Douglass Foundation.
Speakers reflected on King's legacy. Others used his words in calling on attendees to fight Republican-backed efforts to pass a voter ID bill and repeal the Racial Justice Act, which lets prisoners use statistics to prove prosecutors or jurors were racially biased. Some called on the crowd to register to vote and re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012.
The Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, focused on the power of quality education for all. He condemned the privatization of schools and said the state and Chapel Hill-Carrboro need to overcome a "deficit in the education system."
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP opposes a proposal for a new charter school in Orange County, headed by Angela Lee, daughter of Howard Lee, the town's first and only black mayor. State officials are reviewing the application for the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School, whose organizers say will help close the local achievement gap.
The NAACP has said the school would divert public money and drain funds from other schools in the district.
"We must be the guiding force of our own democracy working together for quality education for all our children," Campbell said. "Education is the key to the future."
Kevin Daniels, president of The Frederick Douglass Foundation of North Carolina, asked the crowd to remember King the preacher in addition to King the activist. King's message was more than a political agenda, he said. "Every where he went, he took God with him," he said. "Today we allow politics to divide us, but it was King the preacher that was beyond all that."
But not all the speakers shared that sentiment. After Daniels, Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Matt Hughes focused on politics, calling state Republicans "drunk with power" and denouncing their policies as unjust and "evil."
Several Chapel Hill-Carrboro officials attended the rally including Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Carrboro Alderman Dan Coleman and Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.
Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, condemned the police raid used to end the takeover of the Yates Motor Co. on West Franklin Street, and also called on the crowd to rally against unjust politicians.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is more than a day of service; it's a day of action, he said. "A day of service just won't cut it for our world today," he said. "We need days of questioning. ... We need days of waking up."
Amy Ramirez of Chapel Hill marched with the crowd and brought her two children to teach them about King's legacy, she said.
"It's good to show them at a young age, if you feel strongly about something, you should go out and show your support for it," she said.