Milwaukee has been home to some of the largest celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday dating back to 1969. Indeed Milwaukee has the honor of being the birthplace of the public celebrations now common in most major cities. On January 15,1969, organizers of the first community-wide celebration in the nation, it is believed, will gather to rein-act the historical event. The reinactment is scheduled for January 17, 2011 at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church beginning at 10:30 a.m. The keynote speaker is Rev. Kevin Patterson, whose father Rev. Genora Patterson gave the Invocation at one of the earlier celebrations. There will be student participation in song, dance and recitations of quotes from famous speeches by Dr. King two noted singing groups will appear along with choirs from the Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Awards will be presented as in earlier days.
Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed on April 4,1968. On Jan. 15,1969, Parkman Jr. High School teachers, including Jerry Ann Hamilton, a local civil rights activist, organized the first known public celebration of Dr. Kings’ birthday. “We were determined not to let Dr. Kings’ work fade away in history. We wanted to honor him.” Hamilton explained. Committee members, Hamilton, Timothy Phillips, Linda Jackson-Conyers, Virginia Daniels, and other faculty members presented the idea to Andrew Douglas,then Principal of the then named, Parkman Jr. High School. Hamilton and others recalled that, Douglas warned the group that it would not be easy to get approval from the Milwaukee Public School Board to sponsor such a celebration but he thought it was a great idea. He urged the group to seek approval from citizens, business leaders, etc. in the community. He sincerely believed that many would think the celebration would appear racist and cost the city money. “We were told that this was not the time to start the celebration, it might attract hate mongers set on violence, it might cost the city money to have students participate, people would have to take off from their jobs, some explained.
Hamilton remembers that the idea was met with opposition and criticism from all races.In the end ,the Board of Education relented but warned that students would not be able to miss any class time. A noted classmate of Dr. King, supported the idea and played a part in the formation of the celebration.Major television stations embraced the idea and provided support of staff and publicity for the event.The celebration went off without a hitch. The celebration grew and became the fastest growing celebration in the Midwest.
Recently Hamilton met with a group of early supporters, namely; Gwen Jackson, Timothy Phillips and Lucinda Gordon who were in favor of the reinactment and supported the idea of a reunion. It is hoped that early supporters, organizers and previous award receipients will join others for a great celebration on January 17, 2011. They are invited to join the expected crowd at 10:00 a. m. to be available for a picture. Light refreshments will be served after the program.