Long Island residents yesterday listened to speeches, prayed and marched in remembrance of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and his struggle for racial equality as the nation inaugurated its first black president for a second term.
That Barack Obama's political milestone coincided with the national observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was a reminder of both how far the country has come and how many issues remain for minorities, participants said.
"Days like these do not come often, when the memory of one great man is intersected with the second inauguration of another great man," the Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School where King graduated from seminary, said at the 28th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Hauppauge.
"If you have been waiting for a day like today, where the great history of the past comes alive and where the story of the future is being etched in stone just as we speak, this is the day when you can say 'At last, my prayers have been answered,' " McMickle told the more than 500 attendees.
The federal holiday, established in 1983 and designated as a day of service in 1994, was marked across Long Island through the weekend with gatherings for reflection, celebrations at churches and community centers, and parades.
Ret. Air Force Master Sgt. Willie Williams of Uniondale was among about 300 people who gathered for an early morning parade Monday in the Village of Hempstead. Participants marched from village hall to Faith Baptist Church Cathedral, which hosted a ceremony featuring singing and speeches as images of King were projected on a wall behind the pulpit.
As he watched his Junior ROTC troops from Aviation High School in Long Island City kick off the parade, Williams reflected on King's role in history and in his community's life. "Because of what he sacrificed, we're able to show these children a better way of life," Williams said.
Another 100 people marched in the Glen Cove Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, while a small group of spectators watched despite the morning cold.
Leroy Sanders carried his daughter Amari, 3, on his shoulders, saying "Dr. Martin Luther King changed a lot of things for us. He did a lot when it was really hard to speak out."
Allen Hudson, assistant principal at Glen Cove High School, marched in the parade, as he does every year, with his three daughters and son in memory of "a man who fought for civil rights and gave his life for equality."
For activists like Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island NAACP, the commemorations stretched from the Hauppauge breakfast to religious services in East Hampton and Quogue, and an inaugural ball in Southampton.
The day was an opportunity to remind people that racial and ethnic disparities still exist, he said, citing housing, education and redistricting as examples.
"This whole business of the civil rights movement is like rowing at sea," Ware said. "You go out to the surf, conquering wave after wave, then getting a short ride in and a rest, and you have to go again and again to get the full benefit of it."
McMickle delivered a similar message during the breakfast speech, urging participants to continue asking the hard questions that King once posed.
"What about racism? What about poverty? What about war?" McMickle said. "Our struggle for freedom did not die when Martin Luther King died."
Many left the breakfast commemoration saying they felt inspired.
"It's just a privilege and an honor to be around people who love, who care not just for themselves, but for the world at large," said Diana Jones, 56, an associate preacher at Faith Baptist Church in Coram.
As for the inauguration, she was recording it in case she didn't make it home in time.
With Patrick Whittle
and Bill Bleyer