A day for King

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Dr. Henry Shannon remembers growing up in the segregated South in the 1950s when Jim Crow laws kept blacks and whites apart.

"You couldn't sit in a room at a table with whites," said Shannon, chancellor of St. Louis Community College.

On Monday, the Mississippi native shared a table with top Southeast Missouri State University officials, both black and white, at the 17th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast where he was the featured speaker. A crowd of 600 attended the event at Southeast's Student Recreation Center in Cape Girardeau on Monday's national holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

"I can still remember as a child some of the injustices faced by my own family and other black families," said Shannon, who recounted tales of robed Klansmen and lynch mobs.

Across town a few hours later at another King celebration, the Rev. Stafford Moore recalled how Cape Girardeau had its segregation, too.

When he was a boy, Moore said his hometown was a place where blacks had to enter restaurants from the rear door.

Moore was one of several speakers at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Benefit, a lunchtime celebration that attracted about 100 people to the Salvation Army gymnasium.

The events around Cape Girardeau marked the holiday, which was first celebrated nationally on Jan. 20, 1986.

The Rev. David Allen of Cape Girardeau told those at the Salvation Army that the national holiday isn't a day to sit back and relax.

"This is not a day off, but rather a day on," he said.

"This is not a black holiday. It is a holiday for people of all races," said Shannon, who spoke to a racially mixed crowd.

The audience at the Salvation Army was mostly black.

Looking for flags

Outside of the scheduled King celebrations, there was little sign of a national holiday. Boy Scout troops didn't erect American flags in front of businesses in Cape Girardeau and Jackson, Mo., as they do for other national holidays.

"It's not coordinated through our office at all," said Bill Crowell, who directs the area's Scout office in Cape Girardeau.

Troop 311 puts out the flags in Jackson. Mike Green, flag coordinator for the troop, said the flags are flown about 10 times a year. The King holiday isn't one of those days.

Green said winter ice and snow makes it difficult to erect flags in the winter.

Troop 21 puts out the flags in Cape Girardeau on various national holidays. Troop leaders couldn't be reached Monday. A relative of one of the Scouts' leaders said the troop was returning late Monday from a weekend trip to Louisiana.

King's non-violent tactics of marches and boycotts shared center stage at the breakfast with talk of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Area firefighters, police officers and military personnel at the breakfast received a standing ovation.

Shannon wondered aloud what King, a vocal critic of the Vietnam War, would have thought of America's war on terrorism.

"I'm not sure he would have supported a military response," he said.

Shannon said the United States can't bomb terrorists in Afghanistan forever.

"At some point, we must consider other alternatives."

Theresa Hassler, a 22-year-old Southeast senior from St. Louis, helped organize the breakfast.

Hassler said afterward that it's important that the King celebration be more than just a day off from school. People need to focus on civil rights issues, she said.

Time to volunteer

At a celebration later in the day at the Salvation Army gymnasium, organizer Debra Mitchell-Braxton said Americans need to volunteer time to help others. King's legacy, she said, included service to others.

"It is your God-given duty to help somebody else," Moore told the Salvation Army crowd.

As part of the event, the audience was encouraged to sign up as volunteers with local social service agencies. Several agencies had representatives at the gathering to sign up volunteers.

Betty Mosley of Cape Girardeau signed up to help with the local Head Start pre-school program. She said she had worked with Head Start years ago. But with her children away at college, Mosley said she again has time to volunteer.

Mosley said everyone can contribute to their community, even those who don't have a lot of money. "You've always got time," she said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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