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Brooklyn Lauds Dr. Martin Luther King

The speeches were inspiring, the music uplifting and the panel discussion riveting. It all added up to the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House. “Freedom is not free nor is it easy,” Dr. Edison O. Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College, told a packed house. “We might not be where we want to be, but thank God we’re not where we were,” he added. Jackson’s words echoed most of the speakers, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer. Schumer emphasized that King’s vision for the future as an equal and just society are as important today as his contribution to civil rights were in the 1960s. Bloomberg said that while things are always getting better in the city regarding a more just and equitable society, more needs to be done and the city must not rest on past laurels. Borough President Marty Markowitz noted that Kings County has the largest African-American population in the United States. Markowitz’s speech centered on overcoming the “poverty of spirit,” as well as the “poverty of the pocket.” The panel discussion featured Dr. Carolyn Goodman and Fannie Lee Chaney, activists and mothers of slain civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. The Klu Klux Klan murdered Andrew Goodman and James Chaney along with Michael Schwerner in Mississippi in 1964 during what became known as Freedom Summer. Journalist Gwen Hill, who covered the 2005 trial and conviction for the crime of former Klu Klux Klan member Edgar Ray Killen for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, moderated the discussion. Interestingly, the two mothers had different takes and opinions on social issues, perhaps stemming from their backgrounds. Chaney, a black woman from the south and daughter of a sharecropper, married at 15. At the age of six, she witnessed a lynching and her great Uncle Jim was lynched when she was 10. Goodman is a Jewish woman and life-long activist from New York City, who holds a doctorate in psychology. When asked about changes in America since the civil rights days of the 1960s, Chaney answered that America is no better or worse since then. Goodman answered that the world is a better place. Goodman also said she is opposed to capital punishment and struck a more forgiving tone toward Killen, although said, “Justice delayed is not justice denied.” Cheney said it is hard to forgive Killen’s involvement in her son’s murder, but she prays to get over it every day. Cheney also said Killen “should feel something” for the crime. Folk singer Raul Midon and the Imani Singers of Medgar Evers College entertained. The event ended with the joining of hands throughout the opera house, and the singing of We Shall Overcome.

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