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Marshall says Queens is proof King’s ‘dream’ came true

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"Would he be proud?" asked Curtis Archer, head of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corp., to shouts of "Yes!" from the dozens in attendance at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. "Is there still a long road to go?" he asked, again receiving positive affirmations.King was assassinated in 1968, and residents around Queens observed his birthday over the weekend and Monday, the official holiday. Since his death, overt racism has been largely curtailed, attendees Friday said. They pointed to Borough President Helen Marshall, a former city councilwoman and state assemblywoman who became the first black politician to gain her current post."He had been on the mountaintop and he knew it was possible," Marshall said. "The road is getting shorter."The borough president was attending Queens College when a student, Andrew Goodman, and two other civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. A 79-year-old former Klu Klux Klansman was charged two weeks ago in the murder. Others have been convicted in the case but on federal charges of violation of civil rights, not murder."The whole campus was out mourning for two weeks," Marshall said of the mood following the killings, the subject of the film "Mississippi Burning." Later, the future borough president was volunteering at a church collection area for the poor on Northern Boulevard when King stopped by."He is still my idol," Marshall said. "When he hugged me, I just cried like a baby. It was just overwhelming to be in his presence."King was shot a short time later. "He knew his days were limited," the borough president said. She noted that Queens was a model of King's dream, with a rainbow of ethnicities and races living in relative harmony. In addition to civil rights, King fought for labor and for other social causes. While he would have been proud of the response to the South Asian tsunami, he would have been dismayed by the failure to end the ongoing bus strike in Queens, Marshall said.King also opposed the Vietnam War, and Rev. Nicholas Genevieve-Tweed of Macedonia AME Church in Flushing criticized the invasion of Iraq because of the large minority presence in the armed forces and what he called an "illegal" action."We will press forward with the hope that the life of Martin and the thousands that toiled with him has not been in vain," he said during a prayer.The event Friday to honor King was sponsored by Citibank and included a presentation by the Quilt-N Queens Club of Jamaica's Center for Arts and Learning. The commemoration was chaired by William Nelson, head of the Southern Queens Park Association, and Archer.King would be pleased with the extensive black middle-class community in southeast Queens, Archer said, but would urge the area to work at raising graduation rates. The minister would also likely be dismayed with the sexist and violent messages in the hip-hop culture, recently criticized by entertainer Bill Cosby and others."He would be upset by the dumbing-down of our culture," Archer said.Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, a Queens resident and the keynote speaker, said now was the time to address such issues."It's a time for reflection," he said. "If we do no less, we're really doing an injustice to Dr. King."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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