Features 2002

Martin Luther King pot luck supper

 ... Success through combined effort of many people

by Irving Smolens

At the annual MLK celebration are these familiar figures -- from right to left, Edith Smolens of Temple Beth Shalom, the Rev. Dr. Edward F. Grant, Pastor, First United Methodist Church; the Rev. Ronny Lanier, Minister, First Baptist Church of Lynn; the Rev. Allen H. Goss, Minister of the First Baptist Church, Melrose, (partially visible) and Mrs. Allen Goss.

Beginning 12 years ago, a group of citizens in our city including clergy decided to organize an event that would honor the memory of Martin Luther King's birthday in January. Initially, the event was held in several of the churches in our community. On the third year, members of the Highlands Congregational Church, that year's host, had suggested that a pot luck supper precede the commemoration ceremonies.The aim was to involve entire families. That move turned out to be such an overwhelming success that the event exceeded the capacity of any of the churches in the city. The cooperation of the Melrose School Committee and the principal of the Middle School were sought and permission was readily given to use the school auditorium and lunch room.

In addition, teachers in our elementary schools encouraged their pupils to write essays about Martin Luther King and what the accomplishments of his life-long struggle had meant to our great country as a whole and to themselves personally. Some of those essays were printed on Liberty Bell cut-outs and positioned on posts in the school lunch room where the pot luck supper was being served. Eight of those essays that were judged to be the best would later be read in the school auditorium.

George Stubbs, President of the Melrose Human Rights Commission with group of young students. Also pictured are Tug Yourgrau, leader of the Choral Group (lower right corner) and Steven Locke, member of the Human Rights commission.

As attendees and participants finished their beverages and desserts, George Stubbs, Human Rights Commission Chairman, Sherrie St. Amant, League of Women Voters President, newly elected Mayor Bob Dolan, and State Representative Mike Festa made short remarks pertaining to the event that was being commemorated. Mayor Dolan promised that during his tenure a top priority would be to defend and protect the constitutional rights of all citizens without exception. Representative Festa promised to continue his efforts in the state legislature to help and protect the vulnerable in our society.

Before moving from the lunch room to the auditorium, Rev. Lawrence Starr of the Green Street Baptist Church delivered the Benediction.

As in previous years, Tug Yorgrau, who had emigrated from South Africa and is a prize winning playwright, conducted his volunteer choral group in singing the South African Freedom Song. Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, had been a close friend of Reverend King. Before the Apartheid policy had been overturned that song had been banned by the South African Government.

One of the Liberty Bell cut outs on which had been printed a student essay.

Next came the reading of the essays by the eight young elementary school scholars. Those essays stressed inclusiveness, freedom of association, the need for each other and respect for all regardless of race, color, religion and country of origin. All recognized that there was still work to be done to reach those ideal goals.

One of the students then read her very detailed biography of Martin Luther King which described why he had been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and had his birthday declared a national holiday by the Congress of the United States.

The audience was then treated to readings of Rosa Parks' book by a treasured local actress, Marcy Holbrook. She dressed the part and was made up to look the part and affected the posture of an elderly woman who had been, in her earlier years, a pioneer in the battle for equal rights for black Americans.

Alice White was a Melrose resident who had gone with a friend to Alabama and established "Miss Alice White's Industrial School for Girls." She had stressed equality and pride and had been a great and motivating influence on the life of Rosa Parks. Ms. Holbrook was escorted off-stage to a great round of applause.

Led once again by the Tug Yourgrau and the MLK Choir, many in the audience had gone up on stage to join hands as did the other members in the audience who joined hands with their  neighbors to sing a number of choruses of the Freedom Marchers Anthem, "We Shall Overcome."

It had been a bleak night of freezing rain but that could not dampen the uplifted spirits of those who had attended our wonderful tribute to a great American.

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