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PHOTOS: Alexandria Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. at George Washington Masonic Memorial

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial (Photo: Judith Fogel)

ALEXANDRIA, VA-On Monday afternoon, Jan. 15, the large theater at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial began to fill. Participants were not deterred by the cold.  They packed the cavernous room to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year marks the 51st year that the City of Alexandria has organized the program to celebrate the life, dream, and legacy of the legendary civil rights leader.

The memorial began with a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Song,” performed by St. Joseph’s Gospel Choir.

Two rows of clerical people dressed according to their religion.
Members of Alexandria clergy. Top row, fourth from left, Rabbi David Spinrad, Beth El Hebrew Congregation who delivered the Invocation. Among the group are Reverends Olivia Patterson, Grace Han, Dr. Phillip Faig, and Dr. Larry Hayward. (Photo credit Lucelle O’Flaherty)

Next,  Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) took the stage. He spoke of Dr. King’s dream of equality with urgency and what humanity must do to make sure that it is always pursued.

“If America is to remain a great nation, we must have more respect for one another,” he said. “If America is to remain a great nation, we must make sure every young person in this country gets a fair shot and an opportunity to shine. If we are to remain a great country, we must finally end the scourge of racism.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

Mayor Justin Wilson followed. This is the last year he will speak at the event as mayor. He shared with the crowd the wistfulness he feels “in a year full of lasts” and reflected on the passage of time.

“Fifty-one times we’ve done this event, and that’s 12 years longer than Dr. King lived,” he said. (King was assassinated at 39 on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.)

A crowd of people assembled in theatre seating.
Elected officials stand as they are recognized. Left to right: city councilman R. Kirk McPike, Alexandria Sheriff Sean Casey, city councilwoman Alyia Gaskins, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Mayor Justin Wilson. Front row: US Senator Mark Warner. Not pictured: city councilman John Chapman.
Next to Amy Jackson, seated: Anwar Khan, president, Islamic Relief USA and Zeina Azzam, Poet Laureate, City of Alexandria. Both Khan and Azzam spoke during the program. (Photo credit Lucelle O’Flaherty)

While the mayor pointed out how race relations have improved over the decades and the progress we have made – including Barack Obama’s election to the White House – he lamented the continuing loss of those who stood up and fought for civil rights.

Mayor Justin Wilson (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

“[F]or some of you in this room who have been here a bit, you have experienced government at its worst,” he said. “You have seen government sponsored subjugation, racial subjugation of people, and unfortunately, we are losing far too many of you every year.”

Four people standing looking at ccamera.
Left to right: McArthur Myers, longtime MLK Committee member, Living Legend, historian; Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent; Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson; Sheriff Sean Casey (Photo credit Lucelle O’Flaherty)

The program featured a panel discussion that included two local historians, an Alexandria City High School senior, and Lisa P. Grant, Deputy Clerk to the US House of Representatives.

“I at first didn’t want [the] job,” she admitted. “I was perfectly happy where I was, But then I thought of a second grader in Tennessee who sees that a Black woman works in the US Capitol.”

Left to right: former mayor Allison Silberberg, panel discussants Brenda Mitchell Powell, historian; Lillian Stanton Patterson, historian and Alexandria Living Legend, Yahney-Marie Sangare, Alexandria City High School senior; Lisa P. Grant, Deputy Clerk to the US House of Representatives. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

The tribute concluded with a spirited performance of “We Shall Overcome,” which saw the audience rise and sway to this anthem of freedom.

As attendees filed out to a reception, Zebra spoke to a few. Rosa Crawford and her husband, Elijah, began attending the ceremony four years ago. Rosa, 79, was there for the historic March on Washington 60 years ago and watched Dr King deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Elijah, at 91. said he found the city’s tribute inspiring but raised some concerns.

“We have a façade. We put up a front where it appears that we have moved beyond that which was in existence during Martin Luther King’s time. But the truth is,” he continued,” we may have taken one step forward but for many of us, we’ve lost more than we have gained.”

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