We’ve come a long, long way, but we still have a long, long way to go before racial justice is a reality in our nation.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Speech at Kleinhans in November 1967
On an unseasonably cold and snowy April day, Buffalo held is first Martin Luther King Legacy March last Wednesday as a re-enactment of the “I Am A Man” Sanitation Strike/March and to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
The event kicked off at Antioch Baptist Church on Fillmore Avenue where the Rev. Ulysees O. Wingo Sr., Masten District Council Member, is pastor.
Former Common Council President George K. Arthur, reflected on the day he met Dr. King during his 1967 visit. “Little did we know, at that time, that five months later, he would have been assassinated,” said Arthur.Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee where he visited in support of striking Black city sanitation workers. It was a tense time
for race relations, here and across America, but King’s words resonate today.
King spoke to a crowd at Kleinhans Music Hall back in November of 1967. It was one of the last major speeches he made before his assassination on April 4, 1968.
We’ve come a long, long way, but we still have a long, long way to go before racial justice is a reality in our nation,” he said during his Buffalo speech.
Buffalo Urban League Executive Director Brenda McDuffie said the civil rights leader would have recognized the leadership of young people in the March for Our Lives, especially the young people she took to Washington, DC for the national march against gun violence.
“I was moved,” McDuffie said, “because when I looked back at the pictures and my knowledge and understanding of the Civil Rights Movement, it was in fact young people who took a stand and said, ‘enough is enough.'”
Mrs. McDuffie brought a contingent of young people to the Buffalo program and march. It’s important she told The Challenger, that our young people at least know about Dr. King and that we keep his legacy alive – not just exclusively on anniversaries and celebrations, “ but by doing those things that address issues of racism and inequities in terms of jobs, education, and living wages. We can’t sit here and celebrate if we’re not doing anything proactively.” It was young people she pointed out “that propelled the civil rights movement – it was young people who sat at those lunch counters.”
Other speakers spoke of the similarities between today and 1968, of the religious connections and how much has changed or not changed.
In additiion to Mr. Arthur and Mrs. McDuffie, speakers included Richard Lipsitz, President of WNY AFL-CIO; Majority Leader Legislator April Baskin; State Senator Tim Kennedy; Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples; Barbara Seals Nevergold, President and Member at Large, Buffalo Board of Education; and Mayor Byron Brown. There was also a spoken word presentation by Brandon Williamson & 10,000.
Rev. Kenneth Simmons, pastor of Cold Spring Bible Chapel, attended the commemoration inside Antioch and led the chants as marchers filed into MLK Park afterwards.
“The event was phenomenal” he said, “but if we were really serious about his dream then our community wouldn’t be in the condition that it’s in…we just wouldn’t come together just for an event, we would constantly combat the destruction and negativity in our community that is a direct result of self affliction. We have too many people with the power, capability and capacity to make change, and until we come together as a people we won’t realize the dream of Dr.King.
“We have enough leadership in this community to excel far beyond our wildest dreams – we have enough talent and the skill level as a people to turn our situation around but we have to get serious about it and stop pointing fingers,” he concluded. “ We have to understand that regardless of what we believe (spiritually) we are still Black people (first) who cannot excel until we depend and rely and trust each other.”
The legacy march took place from the church, down Fillmore Avenue, into Martin Luther King Park to the King monument. There participants observed a moment of silence at 6:01 p.m., when King was killed in Memphis by a sniper 50 years ago. There were remarks by Dan DiClemente, Vice President of AFSCM Council 66 and closing remarks by Rev. Mark Blue, President Buffalo Branch NAACP.
*Parts of this article excerpted from WBFO 88.7 reports: “Racial equity progress slow decades after MLK visited Buffalo” and “Celebrating MLK: The man and his movement”