Confederate flag’s removal turns King Day into rally

Jeffrey Collins
Associated Press

Columbia, S.C. — For the first time in 17 years, civil rights leaders gathered at the South Carolina Statehouse to pay homage to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. without the Confederate flag casting a long shadow over them.

The flag was taken down over the summer after police said a young white man shot nine black church members to death during a Bible study in Charleston. Following the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Gov. Nikki Haley reversed course and made it a priority for lawmakers to pass legislation to remove the flag.

Bishop James Walker, who presides over the 7th Episcopal District in Connecticut, praised the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for its fight against the flag.

“You forced important power in high places to recognize that the scared memory of the Emanuel Nine would be parched by a symbol of injustice flying over the Capitol,” he said at a prayer breakfast.

At the Statehouse, about 1,000 people assembled under chilly, sunny skies to mark the 30th anniversary of the federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, who was killed in 1968.

It was one of many events across the country. In Michigan, people delivered bottled water to residents of Flint amid the city’s drinking water crisis. In Atlanta, an overflow crowd listened as to the nation’s housing secretary talk about the 50th anniversary of King’s visit to Chicago to launch a campaign for fair housing.

In South Carolina, the state NAACP said there is still more work to do to honor King and the theme of this year’s rally is “education equity,” with speakers calling for South Carolina to spend more money to help students in poorer, more rural school districts, which frequently have a majority of black students.

The event included appearances by all three main Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley — and heavier police presence.

In the nation’s capital, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama planned to take part in a community service program in King’s honor. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was to be the keynote speaker at a National Action Network King Day Awards program and FBI Director James Comey planned to lead a government wreath-laying service at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington.

Elsewhere, an overflow crowd showed up at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to celebrate King’s legacy at an annual commemorative service. It capped more than a week of events meant to celebrate the slain civil rights icon’s legacy under the theme: “Remember! Celebrate! Act! King’s Legacy of Freedom for Our World.”

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro told the church audience about King’s trip to Chicago. He said King moved into an apartment on the city’s west side 50 years ago and described seeing “a daily battle against depression and hopelessness” as babies were attacked by rats and children wore clothes too thin to protect against the Midwest winter.

“You see, Dr. King knew that housing was more than about just bricks and mortar,” Castro said.

“He knew that if you tell me where a family lives, I’ll tell what jobs are available to them, where their children go to school, the quality of the air they breathe, I’ll tell you the odds they face,” Castro added. “And the walls of segregation left many Americans stuck without a chance to get ahead in life, not just in the South but everywhere, including in our cities.”

Protesters held marches for fair housing, and eventually got the Chicago real estate board to stop opposing laws that were discriminatory, Castro said.

In Minneapolis, activists with the group Black Lives Matter planned to march onto a Mississippi River bridge that connects Minneapolis and St. Paul during a Martin Luther King Day rally.

The Star Tribune reports that the activists would rally for the release of a video of the November fatal shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer. In St. Paul, protesters want the case of Marcus Golden reopened.

Golden was fatally shot by St. Paul police early last year. A grand jury declined to indict the officers involved in that shooting.