Rev. Al Sharpton, now 66, is shown here while appearing virtually during a celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Racine on Friday.
RACINE — Locals were joined by civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, which would have been King’s 92nd birthday.
A wreath was placed at the base of the King statue located in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza at the intersection of State and Marquette streets.
“To have this wreath-laying is pivotal,” said Kelly Scroggins, a member of the new group Racine Women for Racial Justice. “It’s time to dream again about a beloved community with equality.”
The laying of the wreath in Dr. King’s memory has been an annual event for 35 years. Lisa Parham, of the Racine Mirror, organized the event along with many volunteers, sponsors and community partners.
There were many speakers from the community, including Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave. There were also representatives from communities working for justice, such as Milwaukeean Maria Hamilton, whose son was killed by police, which led her to form Mothers for Justice United.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Sharpton joined the event via Zoom.
He called for participants to remember the resiliency and strength shown by Black Americans throughout their history.
Sharpton compared and contrasted three periods of history: the period when Black men and women were chained together and shipped to the Americas, the period when Black Americans were in the throes of fighting for civil rights throughout the 20th century and the current period.
He reminded listeners how horrific the trans-Atlantic slave voyage was. That people were not only chained together but chained down — for the entire voyage, lying in their own waste.
Sharpton spoke of the era of civil rights when Black Americans drove to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Aug. 28, 1963, while being subject to Jim Crow and random violence. They had to travel with food and sleep in their cars because they could not stop in the South for a bite to eat or a night’s rest in a hotel, Sharpton reminded listeners.
“When I think about the sacrifices and the stress he (King) lived under every day of his life,” Sharpton said, “it would be a lot of nerve to say we can’t face what we face today when he faced so much more.”
He added, while the U.S. is currently going through dark times, the days were brighter than they were before.
Sharpton pointed out many living in the U.S. today have the blood of those trans-Atlantic slaves, and of the civil rights activists, flowing in their veins. “Even in our blood there are the people who knew how to be strong and tough — even in the worst of circumstances.”
There are those even now, Sharpton added, who might not vote if there are any inconveniences to do so, even though their forefathers and foremothers fought and died so they could vote.
Sharpton acknowledged the difficulties of 2020, which seem to have leaked into 2021.
He reminded those listening that before President Donald Trump, the United States had a Black family living in the White House for the first time.
“What is possible for us we have already seen,” he said, later adding, “but we have to be strong.”
Sharpton ended his message by reminding everyone that change is work, and that the work goes on.
Diana Panuncial of The Journal Times contributed to this report.