Today we once again mark the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the day set aside to remember his life and important work. I decided to offer something I wrote for the Burlington Times-News in 2014 — an editorial for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — and also a piece we put together with archive photos from the University of North Carolina Library. It’s about a key testament to Dr. King’s legacy in Burlington following his assassination on April 4, 1968. The event was held in Burlington on April 7. The photos are by former Daily Times-News photographer Ed McCauley who gave his collection to the university.
Here’s the editorial from Jan. 20, 2014. It will be followed by the complete text of what appeared that same day with more information about the 1968 rally in Burlington.
Keep the dream alive in these new troubled times, folks. We need it now more than ever.
Days after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tenn., the mood was quiet but somber in Burlington. The civil rights leader was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, shocking a nation that still vividly recalled the assassination of President Kennedy a little more than four years earlier but had yet to witness the murder of his brother, Robert Kennedy, which would come later in 1968.
Meanwhile, war raged in Vietnam. President Johnson faced an uphill bid to remain in office. Protests seemed to be occurring in every corner of the United States each day.
That only escalated after the death of King. The nation was gripped by tension — and violence.
But in April of 1968, Burlington’s march in memory of King held the promise of a better future.
According to a Daily Times-News account from April 8, 1968 reprinted below, 332 people marched a mile from City Hall to First Baptist Church on Apple Street. The group quietly walked, two abreast, along North Church Street. It was a true testament and tribute to the message of nonviolence that King expressed during the turbulent 1960s.
“We believe in the principles of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and pledge to the city of Burlington to seek the rights of all men and to work for the brotherhood and fraternity of all men,” the Rev. Dr. Harold J. Cobb, pastor of First Baptist Church on Apple Street, said that day. “We will continue to treasure Dr. King’s purpose of nonviolence so there will be justice for all living men.”
A legacy was beginning to find foundation.
In April of 1968, few would be able to predict that one day Americans would set aside a day in January to honor the memory of King, something that would become a holiday for many and a time for parades, services and educational events. Today, Burlington marks the King holiday with a breakfast, speeches and a 2.4-mile march from Front Street to the Mayco Bigelow Recreation Center.
His work was critical and essential. Many Americans still remember a time when segregation by race was enforced by governments ostensibly committed to the principle of equal treatment under the law. The civil rights movement turned a spotlight on that shame, carrying the moral high ground by clinging to nonviolence in the face of sometimes brutal suppression, and eventually leading the way to dismantling those laws.
Martin Luther King’s life is a testament to the power of ideas and words over injustice and oppression. If we want to change society in ways that further justice and freedom, it is important to learn, to think, to consider the possible consequences of our actions, to operate in accordance with the principles we develop and embrace.
That’s what Alamance County did in April 1968, when Cobb called for solutions rather than acrimony and vowed, “Violence won’t come to Alamance County.”
King would’ve appreciated the moment. He once said, “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
That’s wisdom from which we can all benefit.
The text below was first published in the Times-News in 1968.
Several hundred persons marched quietly into the business district yesterday afternoon and stood in reverence in front of City Hall and heard a local minister pledge that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s principle of nonviolence would be upheld here.
An official police count had 332 persons participating in the mile-long march to City Hall from the First Baptist Church on Apple Street. The procession left the church at 4:30 o’clock with the line of orderly and reverent marchers stretching for more than two city locks as participants moved two abreast slowly up North Church Street.
Police stopped traffic at intersections along the route of the march, and also escorted the marchers with patrol cars at the head and rear of the procession.
The marchers were met by others in front of City Hall on Front Street by several persons who chose not to walk the distance. Police blocked off Front Street between Worth and Church streets while the 10-minute service was held.
There were approximately 25 bystanders.
Dr. Harold J. Cobb, pastor of the First Baptist Church on Apple Street, led the service. He said, “This is not a march on City Hall but a march to City Hall to awaken both colored and white to say there will be no disorder here.
“We believe in the principles of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and pledge to the City of Burlington to seek the rights of all men and to work for the brotherhood and fraternity of all men,” he said.
Dr. Cobb also said, “We will continue to treasure Dr. King’s purpose of nonviolence so there will be justice for all living men.”
He concluded by saying, “We will and shall overcome.”
The procession walked back to the church on Apple Street, following the same route taken downtown.
The procession was orderly, with none of the marchers carrying signs or placards. They remained quiet throughout the march up Apple Street and down Rauhut Street to Church Street. They left Church Street and proceeded down Webb Avenue by the police station, and turned onto Worth Street and then to City Hall on Front Street.
The only incident came as the marchers were on the way back to the church, when someone apparently threw a rock through a plate glass window at Lilien and Lee Inc. at the intersection of Church and Ruffin streets.
Police Chief Alfred Garner said investigation of the incident is incomplete, but he said the rock apparently came from a slingshot from behind nearby houses.
The rock broke the window, causing an estimated $40 in damage, as the end of the procession passed the car dealership. The majority of the marchers were not aware that this had occurred.
Chief Garner called extra policemen to the scene as a precautionary measure. Police at first thought a gunshot had been fired through the window, but this developed in investigation to be untrue.
“Our solution to this,” he explained, “is to bring to bear on the consciences of the colored and white of Burlington that racism can be overcome by promotion of Christian ideals of Dr. King and the promotion of fair negotiations between races.”
Dr. Cobb also said, “We appreciate the sympathy of the white people in the community, and we want to seek solutions.” He concluded by saying, “Violence won’t come to Alamance County.”
A similar march was held Friday afternoon when some 126 students from Jordan Sellers High School followed the same route to City Hall. They, however, did not stop, but continued back to the school. This march also was orderly.