Peacework
June 99



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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.

Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.

Official at Last-a Martin Luther King Day for New Hampshire

AFSC has been deeply involved in the King holiday issue since 1988, when staff member Arnie Alpert agreed to serve as communications coordinator of the Martin Luther King Day Committee. He can be reached at AFSC, PO Box 1081, Concord, NH; <aalpert@afsc.org>

A twenty-year effort to establish a New Hampshire holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. ended in victory today with a strong vote by the NH House of Representatives adding King's name to the state's Civil Rights Day. The wide margin of victory-212 to 148-surprised supporters.

The vote followed a debate that lasted nearly an hour and a half. Supporters included Rep. Harvey Keye, one of three Black members of the body, who described growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s. Keye described how his uncle, who had been beaten by police, told him not to look white people in the eye. After a bomb blew up in the Gaston Motel, where King often stayed, Keye said he and some friends were "ready to go after" the bombers, until he had a long talk with Dr. King. "I put down my arms and I became a warrior, an ambassador for peace through nonviolence," Keye said.

Rep. Jack Pratt, who served as a civil rights lawyer in the early '60s, described incidents from the Selma to Montgomery march and King's funeral procession. During King's funeral, he recalled, flags on one side of the street at Atlanta City Hall flew at half staff. On the other side, at the Governor's mansion, flags-including the Confederate battle flag-flew at full staff and armed police taunted marchers. "It was a vivid reminder that in death, as in life, Martin Luther King Jr. was a figure who evoked deep, deep passion," he said. "I hope my colleagues today will vote in this chamber to dispel any doubt about on which side of the street this venerable building and the people we represent stand."

And Rep. D.G. Withee, a Republican from one of Manchester's affluent suburbs, spoke for the younger generation. Born in 1969, Withee said his was the first generation to learn about the civil rights struggle in school. To transform the history of civil rights from abstraction to something real, he said, it is necessary to humanize the story by adding the name and face of a real person.

"Martin Luther King's work for civil rights was motivated by a broader vision of social justice, a commitment to nonviolent change, and a deep faith in democracy," said Rep. Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat who coordinated much of the "inside" lobbying among the 400 House members.

Opponents of the King holiday gave rambling, sometimes incoherent speeches that referred to Jefferson, Lincoln, and the sacrifices of soldiers, while belittling the historical significance of the civil rights struggle and the lives of African Americans. "I have not found any evidence of racism among my ancestors since they arrived in Salem, Mass. in 1635," said one.

When the vote was announced, the House gallery, which was filled with King Day supporters, and the House chamber broke into sustained applause. Afterward, Representatives, Senators, Governor Shaheen, and other supporters gathered on the State House steps for a short rally. Rep. Richard Herman, another veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, brought his banjo and led singing of "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine."

The first King Day bill was introduced in 1979 by Senator Jim Splaine, who is now a Representative and was one of the co-sponsors of the successful bill. AFSC has been deeply involved in the King holiday issue since 1988, when I agreed to serve as communications coordinator of the Martin Luther King Day Committee. The AFSC office has been, in effect, the nerve center of a campaign that involved leaders of the state's Black community, civil rights groups, unions, peace and justice activists, feminist organizations, editorial writers and columnists, and major business leaders, as well as politicians.

Youth played a significant role. High school students organized several marches on the State House, including one in 1991 that drew more than 1000 people. The last public hearing on the holiday, April 27, included testimony from a 10-year old King Day supporter who came to the hearing with his anti-MLK grandfather.

Steve Davis, an African American educator who has organized Martin Luther King Day programs at several independent schools since 1990, was one of the long-time supporters in the House gallery when the vote took place. Davis said the King holiday has provided an opportunity to raise awareness among young people about human rights and nonviolence. The killings in Littleton, Colorado show that youth need nonviolent role models, such as King, he told the Concord Monitor. "The need becomes greater all the time in our country," he said. "if we don't do anything but concentrate on nonviolence for the next year, I don't think it could be time better spent."


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