Ernie Pitt, long time publisher of the Winston-Salem Chronicle, started his introductory address to the annual Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast by quoting Charles Dickens:
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way–
in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of
its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for
evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This echoes the theme of Martin Luther King’s speech that he gave at Wake Forest University in 1962.
In that speech, Dr. King reminded us who we are. We are neither extreme optimists nor extreme pessimists. He said from the pulpit in Wait Chapel that people who are extreme optimists believe that we have made “marvelous strides” in race relations, and that “the problem is just about solved now and we can sit down comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable.” He contrasted them with extreme pessimists, who saw the “deep rumblings of discontent in the South, and “the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan” as signs that we are retrogressing. Extreme pessimists believe we can “Do nothing because integration is impossible.” Instead, we are a realistic people. We can combine the truths of both of these extremes. “We have come a long way… and we have a long, long way to go.”
We also heard from Keith Ellison, who is in the running for the leadership of the Democratic National Committee. Keith’s younger brother is an attorney here in Winston-Salem.
Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, alluded to the controversy surrounding President-elect Donald Trump, who sparred with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and legendary civil rights figure, in the days leading up to the King holiday.
“If we confront the era of Donald Trump, then you don’t need to get all scared,” Ellison said. “People before you stood up.”
“Think about how much better off we are than our ancestors who fought for civil rights.”
“It used to be, we couldn’t sit where we wanted to sit,” he said. “We couldn’t drink where we want to drink.”
Change happened, Ellison said, because activists worked for years to engage people on a grass-roots level and built a coalition. In order to move forward now, he said activists and politicians need to return to those grass-roots tactics of the civil rights era and look for unity where it can be found.
“Responsible leadership should bring people together,” he said.
Vivian Burke made a point of recognizing that the progress that has been made in bringing equality and justice to Winston-Salem, and the many people who have been on the front lines of that battle.
She ended her speech with “We Move Forward, Don’t Step Back.”