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Progressive National Baptist Convention Celebrates 50 years

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/3/2011, 10:28 a.m.
Rev. Morris I Shearin, Jr. PNBC, 50th Anniversary Host Committee, Chair, greets member Myrtle Neal, after services, Sun. July 17, at Israel Baptist Church. / Photo by Roy Lewis

"King was the man of the hour and at the appointed time, he stepped forward ... he gave hope to a lot of people who had no hope."

"I am excited for him and glad (the memorial) made it to Washington, D.C., but I have an inner conflict. As a Christian, I'm concerned about the monument," said the 57-year-old retired educator who is a member of Israel Baptist Church in Northeast. "In the Word, we talk about idols and statues. As a believer I don't think we need to do that (erect a monument in his honor). As this happens, I want to see God in all things. More than anything else, Martin Luther King is in my heart. I won't pay attention to the memorial. "

PNBC President Rev. C.A. Baltimore, Sr., said the organization was "very much engaged" in the behind-the-scenes work to bring the memorial, a 30-foot statue, to fruition.

"Most of the old Civil Right leaders are in the Convention. It took a lot of effort and persuasion. We pushed hard on the legislative powers on Capitol Hill, gave a lot of funds to churches and lobbied for space on the National Mall," he said. "In the beginning there was push-back. There is always push-back when change is involved."

When asked, all the PNBC members said King would be saddened by the state of black America though some said the Civil Rights icon would be heartened by the social, political and economic progress African Americans have made to date.

"We have not kept his legacy. He would die all over again to see all this," said Sherin. "He would be highly disappointed. Many of us have lost our way and there is a lack of commitment on the part of many blacks."

Freeman agrees.

"I think he would feel a certain amount of satisfaction because of the improvements," she said. "I feel we have come a long way but we've stopped. We're in a holding pattern. The generation since doesn't have a clue of what came before. Some of his dream has come true but it hasn't been fulfilled. If he was in a room with us, he would say there has not been enough focus."

Parrish said King would likely dare today's youth to maximum their potential.

"He would probably ask them if they had an explanation of why they do what they do. He would challenge them to do things better and differently. He understood the anger that fueled the Black Power Movement but he didn't embrace all aspects. Whether he embraced the solutions they offered, he would not dismiss them out of turn."

"One of our greatest challenges is our success. We have lost our edge ... (and) we're satisfied with crumbs from the table economically."

While the conventional view is that young people generally are disconnected from King and the issues he represented, the sheer numbers of young people involved in fundraising and other aspects of the King Memorial and their participation in environmental, social and economic issues belie that image.

Jualia Chukueke, 23, and Sherin's granddaughter, uses King and his legacy as a template and guidepost.

"The people I surround myself with are aware of Dr. King and he is their example," said the recent Hampton University graduate. "I have found Dr. King to be a very prominent part of African-American culture. He represents hope to our youth."

"For others, some are more focused on what's more modern, contemporary and what's popular in culture, such as entertainment and things of that nature. I do see a disconnect in the lessons history has taught us and current and past generations. Sometimes there are differences in bridging the gap between the two but if you look at the archetypes, King, Ossie Davis, Rosa Parks, there are positive example to provide people with direction."

Despite the myriad challenges facing African Americans, there is a good deal of optimism.

"Our overarching theme is securing our future," Baltimore said. "We have to be optimistic despite the problems we face. Multicultural changes and diversity are good for the country. Our focus is on the common good and common threads to find solutions."