Voting rights, education among King’s legacy

by Charlie Koenig - Posted on Jan 23, 2013 - 01:39 PM

Photo: “Lift Every Voice and Sing”: The choir was a big part of Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony at Zion Baptist Church, Cardinal. In top photo from left, Taylor Clinton, Kayla Carter and Charlene Smith, front from left, blend their voices with the rest of the choir. Photos by Charlie Koenig

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”: The choir was a big part of Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony at Zion Baptist Church, Cardinal. In top photo from left, Taylor Clinton, Kayla Carter and Charlene Smith, front from left, blend their voices with the rest of the choir. Photos by Charlie Koenig

Photo: Ashley Cummings presents a featured solo.

Ashley Cummings presents a featured solo.

In considering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, George S. Forrest Sr. pointed to two factors that continue to have the most profound impact on his own life—the struggle to ensure equal voting rights and increased access to educational opportunities.

Forrest, a retired McDonald’s corporate executive and current owner/operator of five of its restaurants in the Charlotte, N.C., area, was guest speaker at Sunday afternoon’s King Day program in Mathews.

A capacity crowd filled Zion Baptist Church in Cardinal for the nearly two-hour service that was sponsored by the Mathews County chapter of the NAACP.

One hundred and ten years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois recognized the importance of maintaining the right to vote. "The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defense … else what shall save us from a second slavery?" the civil rights activist asked in his 1903 classic work, "The Souls of Black Folk." While not a literal "second slavery," Forrest said that Du Bois was referring to institutionalized discrimination, denying African Americans an equal opportunity for everything from jobs and loans to housing.

King took up this struggle to end poll taxes and other efforts to keep African Americans from voting, culminating in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. "Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will," Forrest said, quoting from a 1957 speech by King. With the inauguration of President Barack Obama coming on the same day as the official King Day observance, Forrest said, part of the civil rights leader’s vision has been fulfilled, but much more still needs to be done.