WATERVILLE — The lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. are more than a sound bite about racial tolerance, a Colby College dean told a crowd of more than 100 at a commemorative community breakfast Monday.
King’s “radical agenda of love,” which was celebrated around the state on his birthday, took on added significance during the presidential inauguration, Tashia Bradley, associate dean of students at Colby College, told those who gathered at the Spectrum Generations Muskie Center.
“It also happens to be the second inauguration of our first president who is black, President Barack Obama,” Bradley said. “The swearing in will usher in a renewal of the hope and the change that was promised, but it will also remind us of how far we have come and, ironically, how far we must go.”
King, who would be 84 this year, received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in advocating civil rights. His birthday has been celebrated on the third Monday of January since 1986, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed a federal bill creating the holiday.
Bradley said King not only was a crusader for racial tolerance but, near the end of his life, also took many strong stances that are far from universally accepted today.
“King pushed to also include an economic equality and anti-war agenda. In April 1967 he spoke out against the Vietnam War,” Bradley said. “A year later, King launched the Poor People’s Campaign, which called for a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”
Many, including colleagues in the civil rights movement, opposed King’s anti-war stance, she said.
Speaking in front of a monitor that rotated images of King, including a mug shot and a picture of him in a jail cell, Bradley said King suffered for his unpopular beliefs and noted that not only was his home bombed, but he was stabbed, jailed and eventually assassinated in 1968.
“Although King had pledged nonviolence, the enemy did not,” she said.
After the breakfast, Effie McClain, pastor at Oakland Sidney United Methodist Church, said King’s message of “hope and transformation” has as much meaning in Maine, where 95.4 percent of the population is white, as it does in her home state of North Carolina, where 72 percent is white.
“Whether you’re white or purple, what can you do to make your world a better place?” she said. “Dr. King began with civil rights for people of color and died trying to defend poor people.”
McClain said the members of her church and her community see her as a person, not a race.
“A lot of them are native Mainers and they’re just good people. They just want to do right,” she said. “They don’t care that I’m black; it just happens that I’m black. I don’t think that’s a fluke.”
Bradley’s remarks were followed by performances by the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church Choir and a group of third-grade students from the George J. Mitchell School, who drew a standing ovation after they spoke of their individual hopes for the future.
Waterville Mayor Karen Heck told the crowd that being good role models and reading to children are good ways to improve the world in accordance with King’s ideals of love and tolerance.
The event was sold out, according to Debora Silva, vice president of community relations at Spectrum Generations, which co-sponsored the event with the Waterville Rotary Club.
Other events in Maine marking the holiday were held at Bates College in Lewiston, the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Kennebunk, Henderson Memorial Baptist Church in Farmington, and a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People celebration at the Holiday Inn in Portland.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287