Durham County

National incidents underscore Durham's King observance

Marchers at Durham’s Martin Luther King Jr. observance in Durham on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, said much work remains to complete the work he helped start.
Marchers at Durham’s Martin Luther King Jr. observance in Durham on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, said much work remains to complete the work he helped start. CAITLIN OWENS

Monday morning’s Unity March and Rally through downtown Durham was not Mary Grace’s first demonstration.

In fact, part of what brought her out to the event celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. was an experience at a nonviolent demonstration. She was arrested, and during her detainment, a zipper on her clothing pressed against her throat, she said. She couldn’t breathe.

She immediately empathized with Eric Garner, an unarmed New York City black man who died last year after being put in a chokehold by a police officer. She made a sign and set it on her front porch weeks ago. On Monday, she carried it with her as she walked past restaurants, businesses and coffee shops in Durham, along with hundreds of other marchers.

The sign read, “I can’t breathe.”

Current events, including Garner’s death and national discussion on police brutality, brought a new dimension to this year’s march. But its message of honoring King and his commitment to civil rights remained the same.

Eric Heath, Alpha Phi Alpha director for the central area including Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, said King was a member of the fraternity, and so he attends the march most years. This year was especially important.

“We’re here to celebrate (King’s) life and his legacy, and to say that all lives matter,” he said.

While much has been accomplished, he said, “There’s still a long way to go.” Inequality today presents itself in different ways, he explained.

Grace said she brought her “I can’t breathe” sign to the march celebrating King’s life because “it’s all linked together.”

“The reality is we’ve been killing people economically, just as lynching killed people,” she said. “Human rights and justice and civil rights and economic rights are all pieces of a puzzle that should all be pieced together.”

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