WATERLOO – The Waterloo Human Rights Commission plans a “Year of King” activities marking the 50th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Details are being worked out by an organizing committee. Events may include a “march in March” — from Lincoln Park across the Fourth Street Bridge to the Waterloo Center for the Arts — commemorating the historic march King led from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965.
Also included will be a commemoration of the September 1968 riot in Waterloo that brought long-simmering racial tensions to a head, leading the establishment of the Human Rights Commission.
The goal, said the Rev. Abraham L. Funchess Jr., commission director, is to make King’s legacy tangible, apply his message of nonviolent engagement to the present day and encourage community involvement to effect positive change.
“Today we know he’s very co-opted. He’s been homogenized and sanitized,” Funchess said. “This year, we want to strip Dr. King of all these other layers people have put on top of him to expose him for what he really was. He was a flawed individual who has a big, big heart who was a great American hero.
“We want to get back to that King — who had a radical critique of community that thrust leadership forward,” Funchess said. “That’s the King we want to celebrate.”
He envisions a recording and video documentary of the year’s events, including recollections of local civil rights pioneers, will be complied into a book along with action recommendations to the City Council for the community going forward, underscored by a theme of service.
“We want to capture a number of stories that might come out of this over the course of the year, but come up with recommendations that might be good for our locale,” Funchess said. “There’s some iconic people still in the city, but we’re also talking about moving forward.”
The year was announced in conjunction with International Human Rights Day in December, but will kick off in earnest Feb. 8 with a screening of the documentary film “King: From Montgomery to Memphis.”
The screening, followed by a panel discussion, will begin at 5 p.m. at the Jubilee United Methodist Church resource center, 1621 E. Fourth St. The event is open to the public and a free meal will be offered. Additional segments of the documentary will be show Feb. 15 and 22 at the same times at Jubilee.
There will be regular updates and discussions of “Year of King” activities on radio station KBBG, 88.1 FM.
Some of the events are designed to call attention to issues that are still a concern today.
“Obviously we’re still dealing with voter disenfranchisement. Those issues are just as relevant today as they were then,” Funchess said.
He wants to engage people in the importance voting. “Because that’s our voice. Everybody seems to be really excited about that. We believe that will be a great galvanizing opportunity for us,” Funchess said.
Another event, contemplated in March during Holy Week leading up to Easter April 1, could be a symbolic washing of feet. The idea, from discussions of members of the Eastside Ministerial Alliance, is “to remind us of the idea of service, which is King at his best ... his admonition to love one another.”
Other activities include group discussions about a King biography and economic justice. A civil rights program is planned at the Waterloo Center for the Arts on the anniversary of King’s assassination April 4.
The overall goal, Funchess said, is to create “gathering opportunities, but also instructional opportunities as we teach more about Dr. King, his legacy as it impacted housing and other civil rights issues.”