Martin Luther King Celebration at Duke University Focuses on Voting Rights

Before a packed house at Duke University on Sunday, Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee, argued that the best way to carry on Dr. King's legacy is to make sure everyone can vote.


The News & Observer

By Kate Murphy

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University hosted hundreds of people at Duke Chapel for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration on Sunday.

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Former Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum spoke about "the power of the people" and carrying on King's legacy, particularly through voting.

Our strongest tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and what he fought so hard for... may be the ballot itself," Gillum said.

He said the ballot should be valued as much as the stone monuments, the memorial street names in cities all over America, the holidays and the fire that burns for King in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Every day we are fighting in Florida and in Texas and in North Carolina to make the Voting Rights Act mean something," Gillum said.

And the fight will continue as "the other side" tries to strip and suppress that right to vote from groups of people through gerrymandering, rigging elections and targeted voter ID laws.

"We are the future of electoral justice," Gillum said.

Gillum said King believed that black people in this country deserved to be treated as equals and that work is not done.

Gillum was the Florida Democratic Party's first African-American nominee for governor and is a staunch advocate for voting rights. In March 2019, he launched the voter outreach organization called Bring It Home Florida. The goal is to register one million new voters in Florida before this year's presidential election.

"As we celebrate Dr. King's life I hope that we take guidance not only from the past and his many contributions," Gillum said, "but that we also use the past to inform our work in the future."

Gillum said the most beautiful part of the sacrifice and the struggle of King and other civil rights leaders is that they did it while being unsure whether they'd be around to be the benefactors of that action.

And Gillum challenged the crowd to lift others as they climb and vote in the 2020 election.

"Let's start living up to the legacy of all the foot soldiers and Dr. King, what they marched for, what they fought for... what they sacrificed for, what many of them died for on behalf of a future."

The program also included performances by the Duke Amandla Chorus and The Collage Dance Company and remarked by Duke University President Vincent Price, Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. A. Eugene Washington, Duke Black Student Association Vice President De'Ja Wood and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.

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