Oklahomans honor King's legacy in civil rights movement

Monday, January 16th 2006, 2:57 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahomans honored the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Monday with speeches, marches and assurances that the slain civil rights leader's method of nonviolent protest is still an effective way to achieve social equality.

``We want our country going in the right direction _ forward,'' Roosevelt Milton, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Oklahoma City, said as hundreds of people gathered for a silent march that recalled the demonstrations of the civil rights movement that King energized before his death in 1968.

``We're lucky that a man named Martin Luther King came along when he did,'' Milton said.

Gov. Brad Henry joined children in ringing a ceremonial bell outside the old Oklahoma Historical Society building to invoke King's memory. Sunday would have been King's 77th birthday.

``I think his legacy is every bit as relevant today as it was four decades ago,'' Henry said. But King's goal of breaking down cultural and economic barriers for minorities has not been fully achieved.

``I hope one day we get to that point. But I don't think we're there yet,'' Henry said.

Henry, who has made improving public education the focus of his administration, said education is the key to breaking the economic and social barriers caused by generations of poverty.

``All people have an equal opportunity to succeed,'' the governor said. ``We've made significant progress since Dr. King's days. But there are still inequalities.''

Milton said the civil rights activism that characterized King's life waned following his death. Interest in King and his accomplishments was rejuvenated after his birthday became a federal holiday in 1986.

``I think that gave the movement another shot in the arm,'' he said. ``I think that Dr. King was well known as the titular head of the civil rights movement. His name still resonates. His legacy still resonates.''

Henry said King addressed social injustices through peaceful means and unity ``rather than by taking up arms or through brute force.''

``Dr. King may never be replaced. But there are many, many others who have taken up the leadership role,'' Henry said.

The sit-ins, protests and demonstrations led by King and other civil rights leaders of the 1960s are less common than diversity conferences and job fairs designed to widen economic opportunities for minorities.

``It's a different kind of discrimination that exists out there today,'' he said.