CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
King honored in speech and song
By Jane Hill
Seats at the Tupelo Civic Auditorium were filled Sunday as hundreds gathered to pay tribute to the towering civic rights activist and black spiritual leader of the age, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
State Senator for Dist. 16, Bennie Turner of West Point gave the key note address at the ceremony whose theme was “America at the Crossroads: Where Do You Stand?”
King’s memory, achievements and message also were honored through song and by school children drilled in the facts about the Atlanta-born civil rights leader’s life.
King’s message of non-violent protest against the South’s Jim Crow laws and segregation everywhere in the 1950s and ’60s abolished many unfair practices and helped change the nature of race relations in the United States.
In the midst of organizing a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, King was slain by an assassin outside his motel room on April 4, 1968. King is officially honored today with a national holiday.
Turner was introduced to the audience by local businessman and attorney Kenneth Mayfield who echoed a quote from King, saying, “There is nothing in the world greater than freedom. It is worth paying for; it is worth losing a job for; it is worth going to jail for. I would rather be a free pauper than a rich slave. I would rather die in abject poverty with my convictions than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self respect.”
Mayfield said he thought it was important that King be honored. “The dreamer was killed, but the dream lives on.”
In his speech, Turner examined the assumption that the United States is indeed in a crisis situation.
“Most of us are convinced that we cannot continue to go on as in the past,” Turner said. “We believe that it is necessary to change and reform is the order of the day. We are in a state of worry, almost anxiety, over these many questions.”
Turner advised the audience to hold to three simple principles: Don’t lose your head; stop your whining; and live with the truth.
“Don’t lose your head,” he said. “We can work through the problems that face us by addressing them in a calm and rational manner.
“Stop the whining. Politicians cater to those who whine. It’s easier for them to respond to whining than to tell you what you really need to hear. It’s easier for the media to exploit whining and complaining than to focus on the problems and how to solve them,” he said.
“Speak out for what you know to be right and against that you know to be wrong. Are you going to take the comfortable, safe, easy way out or are you willing to speak up and say, ‘That’s wrong. You ought not to do that.'”
Turner mentioned Rosa Parks as a person who had the courage to speak out against wrong and unfair practices when in 1955 she refused to surrender her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala.
“‘No. That’s not right,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to do that.’ She was arrested and she was jailed, but Martin Luther King came to her aid and many other people came to his aid. And the law was changed,” Turner said.
Longtime educator and author Ulysses Sims was honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Award at the end of the day’s ceremony.
Performing at the auditorium were Tupelo High School’s African American Creative Youth Organization, the Northeast Mississippi Area Church Drill Teams, the Church of the Living God Mass Choir and soloists Gregory Thompson and Miss Tupelo Brandi Holliman.