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Community gathers to celebrate MLK's legacy

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 18. 2016 7:46PM
Derry resident Paul Doolittle, right, the recipient of the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Award, and 2014 recipient Honore Murenzi, listen to a jazz band during Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration in Manchester. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Much of Martin Luther King Jr.’s criticism of a racist American society gets lost with the “I Have a Dream” focus of his famous 1963 speech in Washington, the minister of a historic African-American church in Portsmouth said Monday.

Pastor Arthur Hilson spoke to about 250 people at the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration at the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Hilson, who attended King’s Washington speech, said the media focused on his stirring words about his dream. But, he said, the media ignored King’s criticisms about police brutality, the lack of upward mobility for blacks and the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.

“The real speech, I call it — now don’t get upset — I call it the white man’s nightmare,” Hilson said. “It was an indictment against a racist society.”

While the country is moving closer to King’s dream, “the mountaintop is not yet within our sight,” he said.

The event is the oldest King celebration in the state and historically draws a crowd of activists, civic leaders and honorees. It included a potluck dinner and music by the Central High School jazz band.

This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award went to Derry resident Paul Doolittle, who has offered the use of his farm to Bhutanese refugees, who use it to grow and sell vegetables.

“He has helped with tools, training, transportation, even helping them find places to hold meetings,” said Eric Zulaski, who chairs the Martin Luther King Coalition.

The Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire received a special award in honor of its work on behalf of families who were forced out of their homes and have made new lives here in New Hampshire.

The event drew dozens of City Year volunteers who work in city schools, Gov. Maggie Hassan, Police Chief Nick Willard and one alderman, Pat Long. Mayor Ted Gatsas did not attend.

In her remarks, Hassan said her father grew up in segregated Florida but learned to respect African-Americans when he fought beside them in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He went on to fight for civil rights for the rest of his life, Hassan said.

She said New Hampshire has helped to lead in the civil rights struggle, from its participation in the Civil War to recognition of gay marriage without a judicial ruling.

“We believe in freedom, and we believe in the value of every person,” Hassan said.

The event usually includes an essay contest involving submissions from hundreds of school students. But organizer Maxine Mosley said the committee received only a handful of entries this year. Mosley said teachers blamed it on new testing and curricula.

“I spoke to teachers around the state and it got away from them,” Mosley said.

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