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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Weeklong memorial to honor Dr. King  

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The 2015 southeastern North Carolina tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. features a week of cultural events, concerts, speeches and educational seminars culminating in a parade through the streets of downtown Wilmington Monday, Jan. 19.

Event organizers said they have seen an increased interest in many of this year’s memorial activities, such as the Saturday morning breakfast at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Warwick Center, which event chair Atiba Johnson said sold out before Christmas. It was the first time ever.

The memorial celebrations grow every year, event organizers said, but they agreed heightened racial tension nationwide could also be responsible for the increase in participation. Johnson pointed out Dr. King’s message of peace was all the more relevant in the current climate of discord.

“It’s what’s taken over the media right now,” he said. “I think this would be the perfect time to bring some of that nonviolence back.”

The weekend’s events begin with a breakfast Saturday morning hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Attendees will hear a speech by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr., civil rights leader and member of the recently pardoned Wilmington 10.

“We just had the one-year anniversary of the Wilmington 10 being pardoned,” Johnson said, “so I thought he would be a great speaker and it would give him a chance to come back home.”

During the breakfast, the NAACP will also honor Jermaine Armour from St. Luke AME Zion Church as pastor of the year and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church as church of the year.

Sunday’s activities include a marching band competition between Elizabeth City State University and North Carolina Central University. The 2014 event was held in the Williston Middle School gymnasium, but parade organizer Hollis Briggs said it was so popular it was moved this year to Cape Fear Community College’s Schwartz Center.

The two marching bands line up facing each other, Briggs explained, and then take turns playing tunes from their repertoire of popular hit music.

“Sometimes the tuba line will play against the other tuba line, and the drum line plays against the other drum line,” he said. “It’s loud, but it’s very exciting.”

Many local high school marching band conductors are encouraging their students to go watch the competition, he added. Last year, he said, three students who attended the competition then decided to enroll in Elizabeth City State University and its marching band program.

“It really gives the teenagers here hope,” he said, “because they never get a chance to see college marching bands in Wilmington.  . . . We want kids to want to go to college and this is one way that they can see something they can do.”

The celebrations will conclude Monday with a parade through the streets of downtown Wilmington. The parade’s growth over the years serves as a measure of the increasing popularity of the weeklong memorial.

“Twelve years ago we had 15 units and the parade lasted 18 minutes,” Briggs said. “Now we have 130 units and the parade lasts for about two hours.”

For the full schedule visit www.

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