Girl Scout Troop 40347 members Nia Tucker, Isis Johnson and Bianca Smith ring the bell.

Girl Scout Troop 40347 members Nia Tucker, Isis Johnson and Bianca Smith ring the bell.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Task force commemorates 50th anniversary of MLK assassination

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published April 10, 2018

 Markus Campbell, 7, sings the national anthem April 4 to start a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at Southfield City Hall.

Markus Campbell, 7, sings the national anthem April 4 to start a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at Southfield City Hall.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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SOUTHFIELD — Members of Girl Scout Troop 40347 rang a bell 39 times April 4 to signify the 39 years Martin Luther King Jr. spent on this Earth. 

The Southfield Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force, in partnership with the city of Southfield, held the ceremony at Southfield City Hall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. 

Originally planned to take place on the front steps of City Hall, the ceremony was moved indoors to the council chambers due to unseasonably cold weather.

“Fifty years ago he was assassinated, and today we take time to remember him,” said event host Dorothy Dean, a member of the MLK Task Force. 

According to MLK Task Force President Patricia Haynie, the organization was founded in 1986 during plans for a peace walk in Southfield — which became the first city in Michigan to hold a peace walk or march for King in observance of King’s birthday, a national holiday. Now the walk continues to grow in size and scope each year, according to Southfield Community Relations Manager Michael Manion. 

King was an American minister and civil rights activist who became one of the most visible spokespersons and leaders of the civil rights movement from 1954 until his death in 1968. He is most known for his ideals of nonviolence and civil disobedience. 

He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

At 6:01 p.m. April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot as he stood on the Lorraine Motel second-floor balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. 

The assassination led to a wave of riots across the country, and on April 7, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning for King. 

Several months later, the shooter, James Earl Ray, was captured in London. Ray confessed to the murder, but he later recanted. He eventually pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. Ray died in 1998 at age 70. 

The National Civil Rights Museum was built around the Lorraine Motel and opened in 1991. 

Southfield Mayor Ken Siver gave an overview of the state of the U.S. at the time of the assassination, specifically the events that led up to King’s death. 

“I believe, as a people, we have made a great deal of progress in the last 50 years. Yet, when we look back at 1968, we see many similarities today,” Siver said. “We are an imperfect nation, and we need to keep pushing for equality, justice and nonviolence.”

City Clerk Sherikia Hawkins spoke about her visit to the National Civil Rights Museum during her time as a student at Michigan State University. 

“As I was entering the second floor, I had a moment where it was a grasp of my air, and I said, ‘I need to do more,’” Hawkins said. “I think now we’re at a space in time where it’s an awakening. It’s not just a fad. It’s a social movement. We need to come together. We need to engage. We can’t be comfortable pushing our garage doors down and saying our life is OK. Even if you don’t like people, we have to come together for the common goal of peace and good, and I think that’s what Martin Luther King’s life represented, and that’s how we need to move forward.”

Hawkins was elected last year as the first female African-American city clerk in Southfield. 

Barbara Talley, founder of the MLK Task Force, also shared a few words. 

“That person who killed (King)  thought he had silenced him and everything else. But that cause — what people believed in — moved on,” Talley said. 

Siver echoed Talley’s sentiments.

“I do not believe Martin Luther King died in vain on April 4, 1968. I think, in Southfield, we’ve done a noble job of keeping him alive,” Siver said.

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