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“We’ve come a long, long way but we have a long, long way to go,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said during a March 12, 1961 speech at Temple Emmanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The speech was played as part of the Doña Ana County NAACP’s annual tribute to King, held via Zoom Monday morning, Jan. 18, which would have been King’s 92nd birthday. The civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
“How relevant his words are as they were back when he was leading the movement,” said Doña Ana County Commission Chair Manuel Sanchez, who was among those who participated in the local gathering.
Sanchez read a county commission proclamation declaring Jan. 18 as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the county. Mayor Ken Miyagishima read a similar proclamation, signed by the city council, which encouraged “our citizens to unite in solidarity and practice the principles of Martin Luther King in our daily lives.”
City Councilor Johana Bencomo was part of a panel discussion that followed King’s speech. She was joined on the panel by moderator and former county manager Julia T. Brown, new Third Judicial District Attorney Gerald Byers, state Sen. Harold Pope Jr. (New Mexico’s first African American state senator), an Albuquerque Democrat, and Leonard Waites, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission in New Mexico.
In response to a question to the panel about the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, Bencomo said she felt “everything from anger to frustration to embarrassment.” That hate “lives everywhere,” Bencomo said. “I think it’s important that we keep calling it out as what it was – a white supremacist backlash.”
Byers, the state’s first African American district attorney, said the assault on the Capitol “was chilling. It was shocking.” The incident was “a hazard to our democracy,” Byers said. “It’s one thing to protest, it’s another to terrorize.”
Brown called the event “a reality that the American people needed to see, to witness, to experience and now need to understand that we can’t just say, ‘Well it happened, so now we just have to move on. It needs to be dealt with.”
“It was Dr. King who taught us that ‘hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,’” New Mexico’s new U.S. senator, Ben Ray Lujan, said in a taped video statement for the event. “Now more than ever, we must heed the lessons of Dr. King and recommit ourselves to embodying his message of non-violence. His words must guide us through this critical moment in history and give us the courage to build a stronger, more just America.”
Also speaking at the event were New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon and national NAACP board of directors member Alfred Rucks. Others attending included Rabbi Larry Karol, New Mexico Ethics Commission member Frances Williams, the Rev. Xolani Kacela, League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico Co-Chair Eileen VanWie and 105-year-old former Tuskegee Airman Clayton Flowers of Las Cruces. A staff member read a letter from U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
King’s 1961 speech was recorded by then Temple Emmanuel Rabbi Joseph Klein, who brought the recording with him when he came to Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces.
In the speech, King said “lynchings have about ceased in the United States today,” poll taxes had been eliminated in all but four states in the South, all but four states had moved to desegregate their public schools and more than 135 lunch counters in the Deep South had been integrated.
“King said non-violence resistance against an unjust system is the most effective means of protest.
“The end is the creation of the beloved community,” King said. “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. Others will “perpetrate violence in our communities ... and we will still love you.”
NAACP DAC President Bobbie Green hosted the Jan. 18 event.