Marvin Swann Jr. expects an enthusiastic crowd to gather Monday to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy despite some direct competition that will steal away some of the annual event’s core audience.
“I know we’ve got a lot of people headed to Washington for President Obama’s second inauguration, but I look for attendance to be as good as it has been in the past,” said Swann, president of the Danville chapter of the NAACP.
Swann is taking his first stab at organizing the celebration that begins at 12:30 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church, Second and¿Walnut streets, after stepping in to replace Norman Bartleson as local NAACP leader. Bartleson, long the public face of Danville’s MLK commemoration and other civil rights issues, died in September at the age of 75.
Bartleson’s presence is missed this year, but the annual King event is not struggling in his absence because of the foundation he created, Swann said.
“The groundwork has already been laid by Norman. I was his first vice president and worked with him on this for many years,” Swann said
Personal issues, however, have made organizing and promoting this year’s celebration a challenge.
Swann’s father, Marvin Swann Sr., recently suffered a heart attack and Swann has spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to Lexington to be with his father. Then on Tuesday, the event’s planned keynote speaker, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Denise Clayton, had to beg off because of her mother’s failing health.
Swann tapped Danville native Ralph Smith, pastor of St. Peter AME¿Church in Harrodsburg, as a last-minute stand-in for Clayton.
Smith, who works at the Boyle County Recycling Center, said today he hasn’t yet had time to hone his remarks but a lot of thoughts have been percolating through his mind as he prepares for Monday’s speech.
“Starting tonight, I’m going to my church alone to put all this together and just let God speak to me,” Smith said.
Smith said he can’t help but be struck by a kind of bleak outlook, with the economy trying to sputter its way out of a long recession, deep divisions among political parties that have stalemated problem-solving and other recent events that have “troubled the nation.”
“I’m looking at all the shootings taking place, even close to home — look at Hazard Community College right here in Kentucky,” he said. “I wonder where we go from here. Are we moving forward, or are we stagnant as a nation?”
Smith said he hopes to fashion a message of hope from that darker cloth, drawing parallels from Obama’s difficult but ultimately successful road to a second term as the nation’s first black president with the enormous struggles King endured during his marches for justice and equality during the 1960s.
“Against all odds, (Obama’s) coming in for a second term, and I believe that does provide a beacon of hope,” Smith said. “In times of trouble, there is still hope and we still have to press on and move forward despite the obstacles we’re facing.”
The Danville King Day celebration will kick off with a “gospel extravaganza” at the church at 12:30 p.m., followed by a march through downtown beginning at 1:45 p.m., Swann said. The gathering will return to the church about 2:15 for Smith’s keynote address and words from Swann and others.
Other communities are also celebrating King on Monday as follows:
- Stanford: Gather at the Lincoln County Courthouse at noon for a short song and prayer before marching down Main Street and along Martin Luther King Street to First Missionary Baptist Church. A program at the church will feature a talk by Lincoln County native Jerry Wilkinson, now pastor of First Baptist Church of Hodgenville, and other speakers.
- Harrodsburg: A pancake breakfast begins at 8 a.m. at Mercer County Intermediate School and will feature a banner contest. Admission is a donation of laundry soap, shampoo, paper towels or other cleaning material to the Pay it Forward program. A commemorative march will begin at 9 a.m. followed at 9:30 a.m. by a program featuring guest speaker Penny Smith of Kentucky State University and music by the Mercer Intermediate School Choir.
- Lancaster: The 26th annual Peace Walk and Commemorative Service begins at the Garrard County Courthouse at noon with a brief prayer and song. A march, led by the children in attendance, will move the event to First Baptist Church, where a short program will be conducted.