ST. LOUIS – Blacks and whites together braved frigid temperatures Monday to celebrate the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, starting with a program downtown at the Old Courthouse, where it heated up with boos and other outbursts directed at Mayor Lyda Krewson.
One, woman, Ziah Reddick, yelled out, calling the mayor’s remarks about the need to continue King’s legacy of social equality and justice “bull.”
Two men, one black and one white, yelled “black lives matter,” shortly after the mayor took the podium.
The white man held a sign that read: “You don’t have to go to Georgia to find a segregated school,” quoting late civil rights leader Malcolm X.
Heckling the mayor relentlessly, the black man yelled: “Racism is real. We have a long way to go. It’s a long history of racism in St. Louis, and the world needs to know. It needs to be addressed. Nobody is addressing it. Nobody is addressing it. End mass incarceration!” The man identified himself as Ali, an advocate for decarceration.
Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards addressed the crowd following the mayor, who appointed him. Raising his voice over the hecklers, Edwards said that King would not have stood for that – that he had cared about conversation and coming together.
“Dr. King also stood for the First Amendment right, the protest, the demonstrating,” Ali retorted, even more loudly.
But Edwards drew applause when he himself loudly and forcefully retorted, “This is a day for us be together!”
Some attendees also flung out sentiments about the need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Some hoisted signs. Many of them and others turned their boos to applause when the mayor, at the end of her speech, shared her recent executive order ordering the wage increase for the city’s civil servants.
When Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner, who sat next to the mayor, was introduced, many applauded, chanting, “Hands off Kim.”
Gardner began her talk with a quote from King: “It is good to have laws, it is good to have have a constitution and rights, but law without justice is dead.” She pointed out powerful justice busters and victims of injustice here, vowing her will to fight at all costs.
“What they do not realize is that the people of the city of St. Louis have said, ‘Enough is enough,’” she said, adding that the city needed justice.
Speaker Zaki Baruti of the Universal African People’s Organization called out the mayor’s administration, including City Attorney Julian Bush, for pushing against the circuit attorney.
“We’ve been fighting for social justice too long, and Kim Gardner represents our best interests as far as social justice,” Baruti said.
Mavis Thompson, license collector for the city of St. Louis, also urged support of Gardner, as well as urging people to vote and to be included in the census.
“I stand here before you proud to have the privilege to serve as your license collector,” Thompson said. She added, sighing, “But unfortunately, today I’m here to repeat the thing that I said last year about the problems in our city.”
Then she listed the problems:
No. 1, she said, is the accelerated murder rate. She rattled off other problems: the acceleration of racism in our community; disregard and neglect of the unhomed in our community; and regressive laws, such as the failure to expand Medicaid, repressing women’s reproductive rights and fighting hikes in the minimum wage.
“Now, with all of these problems, there has to be a solution, and Dr. King said the solution was simple, biblical and universal,” she said. “That solution was and still is love. And love dictates that we fight for every law that values human rights, no matter your race, gender, your station in life, your political parties and even your sexual orientation. We will fight for those laws.”
In summation, she too quoted King: “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. And I have decided to stick to love because hate is too great of a burden to bear.”
LaTonia Collins Smith, president of the Martin Luther King Missouri State Commission, said, “It is a glorious day when we can come together and celebrate and thank the man who struggles for justice and equality among the races, and set the pace.”
She then thanked King for the doors that he had opened in education and business with fearlessness and nonviolence.
And although America is divided in many different way, she said, she believes many are looking every day for a better tomorrow.
“So my friends, dream, be tired, be courageous and be strong,” she exhorted the crowd. “And remember that in all things that you do, work toward peace on earth and good will toward all.”
Then they marched.