Workshop notes facets of King’s work
YOUNGSTOWN — Any analysis at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work should classify it into his four core priorities: tackling racism, fighting economic injustices, opposing the war in Vietnam and ensuring voting rights and access to the ballot box, a longtime minister and civil-rights activist contends.
“He worked to eliminate racism especially in public accommodations like hotels, restaurants and theaters,” the Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, interim pastor of Cleveland-based Antioch Baptist Church, said.
McMickle delivered the keynote address for Monday morning’s virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Workshop, themed “Remembering what is Civil and Doing what is Right.”
Moderating the nearly three-hour annual gathering was Jacob A. Labendz, director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies.
Most of the estimated 60 participants also took part in three breakout sessions that focused on youth empowerment, criminal justice and health care.
McMickle noted King was well aware of the wealth gap, especially between whites and blacks. He realized it wasn’t enough for black people to be able to sit at integrated lunch counters, for example, if they were unable to afford a meal, McMickle explained.
On April 4, 1967, a year to the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tenn., King spoke at Riverside Church in New York City against the Vietnam War. One of the many tragedies about the war — in which an estimated 58,000 Americans were killed — was that a disproportionate number of people of color fought on the front lines, only to be discriminated against, denied opportunities and mistreated when they returned home, McMickle said.
The war also was siphoning money from President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 War on Poverty — funds that could have strengthened anti-poverty programs, he noted.
“The nation was spending $500,000 a day to fight the war in Vietnam — $500,000 a day,” McMickle added.
King also faced sharp rebukes from some civil-rights leaders for his stance on the war, largely because they felt his focus should be on the many problems at home, many historians have said.
Over time, voting rights have evolved, beginning when the Constitution was ratified in 1787 and only white men who were property owners could vote. Such rights were expanded during Reconstruction in 1870 when the 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote, he noted.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and the 24th Amendment, ratified Jan. 23, 1964, abolished poll and other taxes as barriers to voting. In addition, the 26th Amendment, ratified in July 1971, lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18, McMickle told his audience.
Each move forward has been met with backlash and resistance, however, especially from southern states, that included literacy tests and other efforts to thwart blacks’ ability to register to vote, he said. McMickle also noted the five-day 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march led to passage of the federal Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965.
Nevertheless, Jim Crow-style efforts to restrict and dilute voting continue today that include eliminating Sunday voting, limiting the number of drop boxes and closing polling places, McMickle said.
“Voting rights are under direct assault in this country,” he added.
One way to honor King is to contact U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and urge him to support the John R. Lewis Voting Rights bill and the Freedom to Vote Act, the pastor said. Portman, R-Terrace Park, has opposed the federal measures in favor of allowing states to handle voting issues.
McMickle also urged participants to pay attention to the seven-member bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission, which is to meet today to redraw state congressional lines after the Ohio Supreme Court had struck down by a 4-3 vote the GOP-drawn maps it said were unconstitutional and tantamount to gerrymandering.
It’s also important to communicate with Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, McMickle added.
Michelle Edison, the Mahoning County Health Department’s director of health equity strategies and initiatives, discussed disparities in Mahoning County’s infant mortality rate, which she said is on par with that of some Third World countries.
The criminal justice group talked about further addressing human trafficking in the area, greater collaborations between police departments and the communities they serve, holding officers accountable for wrongdoing and opposing Ohio House Bill 109, often referred to as the “anti-protest bill” many say equates civil disobedience with terrorism.
The youth-empowerment panel discussed how COVID-19 is affecting young people, as well as ways racial injustices are impacting youth culture.