Some had attended prayer breakfasts to honor the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Others had marched through the streets of the North Carolina capital, singing traditional Civil Rights anthems such as “We Shall Overcome” and Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” tribute to the man of honor on Monday’s national holiday.
The theme for the 37th anniversary celebrations sponsored by the Triangle Martin Luther King Jr. Committee was “Where Do We Go From Here?”
Raleigh resident Stanley Davis looked out at the marchers and others gathering for a midday college-themed event at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The retired state worker, who spent years working in rural health, was talking with his friend James Williams, a tool and die maker from Garner.
They reflected on the campaign season that culminated with the election of Donald Trump, and the concerns of some they knew that the Republican president-elect’s administration would try to to roll back voting rights and other more progressive programs, policies and legislation put in place since the Civil Rights movement led by King in the 1960s.
Davis was a supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton and ordered inauguration tickets before he knew the outcome of the election, hoping he would be watching the first female president being sworn in. Though some in Davis’ group no longer want to use their tickets, he plans to be among those going to Washington to see Trump take the oath of office.
“He’s our president,” Davis said. “We’ve got a democracy. ...I want him to do well. If he does well, we all do well.”
Republicans in Congress already have started taking steps to fulfill a Trump promise to repeal the signature initiative of the nation’s first black president, the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare as it’s often called.
Then, over the long holiday weekend, Trump lashed out on Twitter against Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat personally recruited by King to help fight for voting rights in the 1960s. Lewis, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for a lifetime of civil rights work, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he didn’t see Trump as a legitimate president and did not plan to attend the inauguration for the first time in 30 years.
Those actions against Lewis and some of the Trump Cabinet picks also troubled marchers in Raleigh on Monday.
Williams, who nodded in agreement to many of the points that Davis made, cast aspersions on the vitriol associated with the 2016 campaigns. Though he was critical of the outgoing president’s opponents, who put up many obstacles for Obama, Williams said he accepted Trump as president and was willing to give him a chance.
“It’s still the United States of America – indivisible,” Williams said, adding a word from the Pledge of Allegiance. “Indivisible. You’ve got to believe that.”
Their comments came on the heels of an Interfaith Prayer Breakfast at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Research Triangle Park.
In a fiery keynote address, James White, senior pastor at Christ Our King Community Church in Raleigh and executive vice president for organizational relations for the YMCA of the Triangle Area, reminded those at the breakfast trying to figure out “Where Do We Go From Here” that King was a man who tried to push people out of their comfort zones to achieve progress.
While mixing Biblical verse with King’s words, White told his audience that King might be unsettled by the state of race relations and the growing wealth divide and enduring economic inequality. Then White took on Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“It’s not about America becoming great again ... but we go to a place where America can become greater than it’s ever been,” White said to loud “amens” and applause.
Sanje James, a high school senior from Wake Forest, and Arianna Purvis, a Rolesville High School senior, said they attended the King celebrations in downtown Raleigh because they were ready to pick up the mantle.
“The fact that the election was so bad, this connects us all together to make a stand,” James said.
“That’s what always ends up happening,” added Purvis. “People might want to sit at home and cry. But they do stuff like this to find the positive.”