King led one of longest movements in history fighting for civil rights
by Chris Norwood
TALLADEGA — A near capacity crowd filled Mt. Canaan Baptist Church’s Regional Life Center Monday morning to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy on what would have been his 83rd birthday. The theme of the event was “The Dreamer is Gone; As a People, Where Do We Go From Here?”

Randy B. Kelly of Goodsell United Methodist Church in Lannett was the keynote speaker, and gave a powerful, fiery history of the long struggle for freedom and equality, dating back to Moses in Egypt and carrying through to the present day.

The theme for the address comes from Duet. 6:10: “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant — and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

“Ralph Abernathy used to say we walked so smooth because we walked on a carpet of blood He sacrificed,” Kelly said. “Fred Shuttlesworth had his house bombed with 16 sticks of dynamite. He went one way, his mattress went the other way, and somehow when it was all over, he was laying on top of that mattress and did not have a scratch on him. Dr. King led one of the longest movements in U.S. history, more than 13 years, and it’s not even taught in our public schools. We were kings, queens and pharaohs. … Now all our young people know are entertainers, and they honor burglars. We forgot how we got to where we are today. We turned away from God.”

Kelly then addressed the long history of horrors and injustices, from “black” having negative connotations in every day speech to the middle passage, slavery and legal segregation. He pointed out that the U.S. Constitution initially considered slaves to be only three-fifths of a person.

King, he said, “was well read and well bred. He was raised to fight, to pick up the baton. He studied mentors and people in history who refused to be slaves of oppression. He knew that slave ships had been overthrown. He knew about the underground railroad, about the woman who became known as Sojourner Truth, about Harriet Tubman with a pistol in one hand and a Bible in the other.”

King, Kelly said, “refused to participate in his own oppression.”

The other highlights of Monday’s event were the honor bestowed on three civil rights pioneers in Talladega.

First, Talladega City Council President and host Horace Patterson introduced Wilby Wallace, “an inspiration for all of us because of his accomplishments. He was the city of Talladega’s first African-American police officer in 1968, and in 1974 he became the city’s first African-American police chief. Starting in 1982, he became the deputy prison commissioner for the state, serving under four governors, and in 1995 he was named acting commissioner. President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the state Selective Service Committee.”

Wilby Wallace Day will officially be observed in Talladega Wednesday.

The second honor went to Harold Franklin who, in 1964, became the first African American student to enroll at Auburn University. “He came in heavily guarded and isolated, and did not finish his degree at Auburn. But he earned a master’s degree at the University of Denver, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Auburn in 2001, a 37 year journey,” Patterson said. “He went on to a distinguished career in education at Alabama State, North Carolina, Talladega College and the Tuskegee Institute. And remember this, too: Without Dr. Franklin, there is no Cam Newton.”

Harold Franklin Day is today.

The third plaque went to former Talladega City Councilman Eddie Tucker. According to presenter Juanita Curry McClellan, Tucker has worked “tirelessly, for many years, sometimes almost single-handedly, keeping the Alabama Democratic Conference going.”

County Commissioner Kelvin Cunningham introduced several notable attendees, including Lincoln City Councilwoman Sadie Britt, Talladega Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mack Ferguson, Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson, Talladega City School Board member Shirley Simmons-Sims, Superintendent Doug Campbell, Commissioner John Carter, Probate Judge Billy Atkinson, District Judge Jeb Fannin, Sen. Jerry Fielding, NAACP Director Hugh Morris, New South Coalition Director Albert Bell, CAA Director Jesse Cleveland and former CAA Director Horace Sims.

Contact Chris Norwood at

© 2012