City celebrates King's birthday

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Juneau celebrated civil rights in song Monday.

Although blacks make up only 0.81 percent of the city's population, their gospel music rocked Centennial Hall on Monday afternoon to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Alaska Youth Choir sang "Amazing Grace." Voices of Praise Gospel Choir sang "Swing Low." Sherry Patterson sang a selection of songs from the civil rights movement, from "Keep your Eyes on the Prize" to "We shall not be Moved."

"The civil rights movement was full of dangers. Dr. King's assassination was an example of how dangerous it could be," said Patterson, vice president of the Black Awareness Association. "These songs were what people held onto to help them pursue courage and peace."

Juneau didn't always have a big celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

When Michelle Monts moved to Juneau four years ago, she was surprised to find that there were no activities to teach children about King and segregation in the 1960s. Monts then got together with other black parents and planned a series of events in memory of King and for Black History Month.

"It was started as a desire to help our children understand their heritage," said Monts, president of the Black Awareness Association. "They must know where they came from and the contributions African Americans have made so they will have a sense of pride and won't allow themselves to be limited by the opinions of other people based on the color of their skin."

"We want people in Juneau to know that the black community is active and alive," she said.

Black History Month events in February

"Pieces of Life," a play about a grandmother telling her grandson about the history of a family quilt. 5 p.m. Feb. 12, place to be announced.

"An Evening of Entertainment" with dinner, art and music. 5 p.m. Feb. 20, the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska community hall on Hospital Drive.

Patterson said even though she was a child when King delivered the famous "I have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963, she experienced a lot of racism and hostility, growing up in Louisiana.

"We couldn't mix with the whites," Patterson said. "People still called me by the N-word. I remembered we could sit only in the balcony of the movie theater. We entered the doctor's office from the back door. Although I was bused to a white school when I was in ninth grade, I didn't have a white friend until I was an adult."

Monts, who grew up in Arkansas, said she experienced a more subtle racial discrimination.

"My mother bought a house in a white neighborhood. All the neighbors moved out within three years. When we stood in line, the clerks would ask everybody else what they could do to help, except us," Monts said.

Monts said they don't recount the stories to rekindle conflicts but to understand history.

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