Locals are celebrating the birthday of iconic civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday in New Port Richey.
The African American Club of Pasco and New Port Richey's city government are sponsoring an event that includes a symbolic march and guest speakers. The event begins at 10:3o a.m. Monday at Community Congregational Church at 6533 Circle Blvd.
King, born Jan. 15, 1929, fought against racial inequality during the era of legalized racial segregation, and he is famous for doing so using nonviolent means. King was spokesman during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, which protested segregation on public transportation. He led a campaign of nonviolent protests against segregation in Birmingham in 1963.
During the March on Washington later that year, he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. That speech is credited with being partly responsible for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which essentially ended legalized segregation.
From 1955 until his assassination in 1968, King led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group he helped found that also fought to end segregation.
King’s birthday is celebrated as a national holiday annually on the third Monday of January.
The New Port Richey MLK birthday event begins at 11 a.m. at Community Congregational Church. A symbolic march will proceed from there to the West Pasco Historical Society’s Rao D. Musunuro Museum. After a flag raising and Pledge of Allegiance, participants will march across Grand Boulevard to Sims Park.
There will be a musical performance at the Sims Park Amphitheater, followed by presentations from speakers.
The keynote speech will be given by Florida State University professor Ben Green, who wrote a book on civil rights activist Harry T. Moore and wife Harriet Moore. The Moores’ daughter will also be a guest.
Harry T. Moore lived in Mims and started the Brevard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1934. Moore was a teacher and regarded as a pioneer of the civil rights movement in Florida.
In conjunction with a Florida all-black teachers association and wiith NAACP backing, he filed of the first lawsuit in the Deep South seeking to equalize black and white teachers’ salaries, according to the website for PBS’ documentary “Freedom Never Dies.”
He organized the first Florida State Conference of the NAACP and was its secretary.
He also fought lynchings and police brutality.
“At first, his protests were confined to letters to the governor, but he quickly threw himself directly into lynching cases, taking sworn affidavits from the victims' families and even launching his own investigation,” according the PBS website. “ From that point until his death, Moore investigated every single lynching in Florida.”
He also organized the “Progressive Voters' League, and in the next six years, due primarily to his leadership, over 116,000 black voters were registered in the Florida Democratic Party”, the website says.
Moore was killed Christmas Day, 1951, after a bomb placed under the floor joists beneath his bed exploded. His wife was also fatally injured.
Guest speakers at the ceremony will include New Port Richey Chief of Police James Steffens, college student Jarius Knight, and “civil rights struggle participant Maxine Walker Giddings,” according to a press release.
Former Pasco School Superintendent Heather Fiorentino will be given an award for assistance to the African American Club. A minister will also receive a lifetime achievement award.
There will be a different, unrelated Martin Luther King Birthday ceremony later that night. The Unity Truth Center at 5844 Pine Hill Road in Port Richey will be holding a ceremony "of song, prayer and ritual celebrating the Love & Truth teachings of Gandhi and King.” That ceremony starts at 7 p.m.