MLK Jr.’s words echo in this time
‘Turn back the forces of today,’ says DeLauro at tribute
NEW HAVEN — Even as we feel the arch of civil rights buckling today to bigotry and hatred, it’s more important than ever to remember that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. kept his resolve while jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, for his participation in a peaceful demonstration, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said Sunday.
DeLauro said she is heartened that a year after King was in that jail, he stood in the White House for the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
“We will turn back the forces of today and stand together,” DeLauro said. “The goal of America is freedom.”
DeLauro and several other dignitaries, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, were among
those who spoke to a packed church for the West Haven Black Coalition’s 33rd annual tribute to King. The coalition was founded and is led by Carroll E. Brown.
Because of work being done at the event’s usual locale, West Haven’s First Congregational Church, the tribute was held at the Elm City’s First Church of Christ, also known as Center Church on the Green.
The tribute annually draws about 500 and is considered the area’s kickoff to a week of celebration of the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.
The Rev. Carl Howard, temporary pastor at First Congregational Church of West Haven and associate pastor of Dunbar Congregational Church in Hamden, told the audience that in modeling King, people should remember his tenacious, tough side and look beyond the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Howard said King during his time was “despised” and “vilified” by many, and faced challenges from the black power movement and for speaking out against the Vietnam War at the risk of
alienating President Lyndon Johnson. Even Jackie Robinson and the Southern Leadership Conference turned against King, Howard said.
“If we’re going to be like Dr. King, we have to give our all as well,” Howard said.
King withstood adversity and stayed focused, Howard said.
“Sometimes, we have to walk alone,” Howard said. “He saw what needed to be done and he did it. He dared to challenge the status quo, despite consequences.”
Howard told the audience that in continuing King’s work today, “We have to stop being sidetracked by the side show.”
Blumenthal said many think of Martin Luther King Day as a day off, but it should really be a “day on” in the struggle for criminal justice reform, better housing, better education. Blumenthal said he’ll continue working for that in Washington, D.C.
He drew parallels to today, noting the current government shutdown has 800,000 people either out of work or working without pay.
He said King died while organizing a strike of sanitation workers in need of economic equality.
Blumenthal said that like King, “We should all be holding our government’s feet to the fire.”
Blumenthal invoked the famous, timeless quote by King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Bysiewicz said fighting for economic justice and fighting poverty were among King’s top agenda items and they are tops on the list for her and newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont.
She said they want the minimum wage raised to $15, paid family medical leave and equal pay for women.
She said they are also working hard to see that the state’s staff “reflects the diversity of our state.” Bysiewicz said they want to keep people in the state.
“The civil rights movement and the legacy of Dr. King depends on all of us,” Bysiewicz said.
Master of Ceremonies Sean Hardy, of the Mauro-Sheridan School in New Haven, speaks during the tribute at Center Church on the Green in New Haven.
The Rev. Carl Howard, associate paster of the First Congregational Church of West Haven, gives the keynote address during Sunday MLK tribute.