From the Shiloh Baptist Church in northwest D.C. to Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast, the 90th birthday of the slain civil rights leader was celebrated across Washington in a variety of ways as a new generation of people faces their own set of racial barriers and daunting challenges.
And yet, in 2019, while many of the causes that King preached and died for have been challenged by President Donald Trump and conservatives on Capitol Hill, African Americans still found hope through songs, concerts, ecumenical programs and parades held across the city to commemorate King’s legacy.
“I have a dream that one day, my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but [by] the content of their character,” said Crescent R. Holmes, a senior debutante at Shiloh, who offered reflections of King’s speech during the church’s 28th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast on Saturday.
The event, which drew several hundred people, took place in the fellowship hall of a church located at 9th and P streets, where on Oct. 9, 1960, King spoke during the congregation’s annual Men’s Day program under the leadership of Pastor Harrison and the church was filled families who lived nearby in tall brownstones in the Shaw community.
Rev. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a professor and chair of the Department of Religion and African American studies at Princeton University, said during Saturday’s breakfast that African Americans are still dealing with the same issues that King dealt with in the 1960s.
“King’s murder ripped the fabric of common concerns and was the latest and perhaps the most visibly painful and mournful example of dead bodies piling up right in front of Black people,” Glaude said. “Stokely Carmichael put it succinctly: when White America killed Dr. King, it declared war on us. It seems so funny how people can walk so quickly past our dead.”
While Glaude spoke outside Shiloh, young Whites walked their dogs past the church and passed a historical landmark that showed an image of a class of Sunday School children outside the old Shiloh church in 1919. Today, 100 years later, most of the people attending the prayer breakfast were senior citizens and yet there was still a fire to fulfill King’s dream.
“The importance of this event is not just commemorate Dr. King and his legacy,” said John Hale III, chair of the committee that planned the breakfast. “It is about the relevance of social justice and civil rights that has to be reclaimed in every generation. It brings together that mission, God’s purpose and God’s power, so we can teach from one generation to the next.”
Charles “Duke” Smith, a Shiloh member and retired Navy captain: “This is the 28th time we have had this event at Shiloh and we elevate and keep Dr. King’s legacy and memory in front of us, because if we don’t, then who will? He connects to all of us back to those who made life better for all of us who live today, especially for people of color.”
One person recognized during the breakfast was Desmond Meade of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, who led the fight to get voting rights restored to ex-offenders in the state.
“When you talk about restoring civil rights to 1.4 million people in Florida, this is nothing but the continuation of the work that Dr. King was doing,” Meade said.
Rev. Catherine Bego, the former head of the DC Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said if King was alive, he would do more than hold church events.
“Dr. King would be leading us in a church without walls because our ministry is not in bricks and mortar, our ministry is in the street with the hopeless, the homeless and the helpless,” Bego said.