CHAPEL HILL — Jud Irish ran out of words as he prepared to lead the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march down Franklin Street.
“To encourage civil rights,” the excited 10-year-old said when asked why he was there. Then he paused and added, “It’s a big day.”
About 150 people gathered on Peace and Justice Plaza to celebrate the legacy of the slain civil rights leader. The day carried special significance, marking the second inauguration of the nation’s first black president later that morning.
The focus outside the Franklin Street post office was local. Speakers urged the crowd to continue fighting for equality.
“A lot of people believe civil rights is dead,” said moderator Terrence Foushee, 26, the son of newly elected state Rep. Valerie Foushee. “Civil rights has a heart. It’s beating.”
Poet C.J. Suitt electrified the crowd with “My Lovely Little College Town.” The poem describes continuing racism in Chapel Hill, contrasting the “Silent Sam” statue on UNC’s McCorkle Place and the squat “Unsung Founders” memorial to people of color who helped build the university, a few yards away.
Where the predominately Black and Latino parts of the city have been reduced to a quarter of the size that they used to be or moved far away as not to
tarnish the image of the university
A university that has erected a 20 ft tall monument in the civil war SILENT Sam
And less than a hundred yards away is a slave monument that’s ... a table
A table that has these 2 foot slaves holding it up
The last time I walked past there was a lovely white family enjoying lunch.”
Chavez Adams, president of the campus NAACP, said King had a strong sense of community and recognized that interdependence was key to advancing all people.
Adams grew up in Raeford, outside Fayetteville, where he said crack houses were as common as churches.
“Service is personal,” he said. “It is not something you put on your resume.”
When you commit to serving others, they come to depend on you. “They count on you,” he said, because many times “they have no one else to count on.”
The Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, kept the theme going.
“We are alive! We are awake!” he said.
As long as inequities remain, “we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Today is just the beginning of 365 days of community service.”
Moments later, the crowd stepped off the plaza and into the street.