By Sarrah Peters
The City of Gadsden played host to two events honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
On Friday, Broad Street was the location of a small “Unity in the Community” parade. The parade was organized by CJC Services Corporation. This is the first year the parade has been organized, but CJC Services plans to organize another Martin Luther King, Jr. parade next year.
The 29th Annual City-Wide Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was held on January 19 at Gadsden Convention Hall.
The event was hosted by WMGJ radio and the City of Gadsden. The event featured music, scripture and a prestigious guest speaker, Donald V. Watkins.
Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton presented Watkins with a proclamation announcing the week of January 19-23 as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. week and a key to the City of Gadsden.
Watkins spoke of his previous visits to Gadsden, the last one being when he came to defend Walker Alexander in 1981. Someone with less qualifications, but white, was hired over Alexander.
After winning the case, Watkins had to be escorted out of Gadsden because he recieved “every kind of threat.”
“Then, I was lucky to get out of Gadsden. To go from that to being welcomed back proper and receiving a key to the city. There aren’t words to describe that,” said Watkins.
He also encouraged attendees to remember Jimmy Lee Poe, whose suit led him to become Gadsden’s first black firefighter, and Margaret Croft, who filed a suit against Mid-South Electric after being repeatedly passed over for promotions.
“When you get down to the people level, everybody wants the same thing,”said Watkins. “They want to be treated with respect…They want peace.”
Although he was discriminated against himself, Watkins found courage in unlikely places.
“You remember small acts of humanity,” said Watkins.
Watkins also challenged the people of Gadsden to work together to name things after the Gadsden civil rights advocates he named and to create an economic empowerment program.