Bernard LaFayette, who led the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign in 1968, and the Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta stand for the recommitment ceremony to King's civil rights legacy Sunday in Washington. Vivian and LaFayette were trained in non violence by James Lawson, who trained hundreds of students and adults in nonviolent social resistance during the sit-ins and desegregation efforts in Nashville. They were also a part of the Freedom Rides, which began in 1961 to test desegregation laws in public transportation.
You might not know The Rev. Calvin Woods, unless you happen to be from his hometown, Birmingham, Ala.
Woods, a longtime civil rights activist, helped persuade The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to come there, to what many considered the most racially divided and violent city in America in the 50s and 60s.
The movement in Birmingham and other cities marred by bombings and murders led to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963.
Sunday on the morning after tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that march and “re activate” King’s dream, a small circle of leaders of the SCLC, an organization founded by King and others, and other workers for non violent social change, gathered by the King Memorial on the National Mall.
“There’s a direct connection that most people don’t make. Had it not been for the Birmingham movement we would not have had a March on Washington,” said Bernard LaFayette, a senior scholar in residence at Emory University and a leading instructor of Kingian nonviolence in the world.
LaFayette, the current chairman of the board of the SCLC, has trained people in Colombia and Nigeria to turn from violence in exchange for job training and in Nigeria, forgiveness of war crimes. He is currently doing the same kind of work in Ghana.
LaFayette, 73, worked for voting rights in Alabama and Mississippi and survived an assassination plot in Mississippi in 1963 on the same day Medgar Evers was killed.
For people like Woods, the SCLC’s chaplain, LaFayette and current SCLC president the Rev. C.T. Vivian, 89, — who is soon to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work for civil rights — King’s dream is more than a sound bite.
Later Sunday Martin Luther King III and his wife were among those attending a reception behind the memorial to unveil a project designed to make knowledge of the work of King and others more accessible. The King Imaging Project, funded by J.P. Morgan Chase, will digitize more than a million documents housed at the King Center in Atlanta.
“I walked in here and cried, because all of this is accessible now,” said Lynn Cothran, a former aide to Coretta King. “Martin is responsible for this and Dexter talked about this happening. People can say what they want about them, but they made this happen. And that was very important to Mrs. King.”
Among those at the reception was Andrew Young who stopped by on his way to his alma mater, Howard University, to premiere his latest documentary.
“1963: The Year that Changed America,” was produced by Young and focuses on the Birmingham campaign.
Staff writer Ernie Suggs contributed to this report.