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Activist Poughkeepsie MLK Event Is Held Virtually

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966
Public Domain
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March for Social and Economic Justice in Poughkeepsie began in 1996 and became an annual activist event until a few years ago. This year, during COVID-19, it was held virtually, and hosted by one of the original organizers — former Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner. Tyner resigned in Janaury 2019 amid sexual harassment allegations and then moved across the country. Yet Zoom brought together some of the usual participants.

That’s folk singer Pat Lammana, who credited the song.

“So this song was written by David Heitler-Klevans,” Lammana says. “I think it’s a song that Dr. King would’ve liked if he had heard it, but it was written long after he passed.”

Probably, if today’s event were in person, she would have been singing during a march that used to leave from the Smith Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church. Bishop Debra Gause is with the Holy Light Pentecostal Church in Poughkeepsie, where the march normally ends.

“But I think if Dr. Martin Luther King was here today that he would be horrified,” says Gause. “He would be horrified at the disgraceful acts of President Donald Trump’s supporters of all those different types and groups and who stormed the Capitol in violent rage and degradation and desecrating the People’s House with their false and flagrant lies, with the refusal to accept truth so they remain willingly ignorant and pathetically ignorant.”

Reverend Stacey Bottoms is with Beulah Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie.

“What’s missing is unity. We have to come together because there’s still a fight that has to be fought for freedom and equality,” Bottoms says.  “And, one of the things, one of my favorite things about Dr. Martin Luther King was that he, his parents were well educated, he was well educated, he could have done anything else. He could have lived comfortably with his wife and his children, but he gave his life, he fought for his people. He fought for people, period.”

Activist Mae Parker-Harris, who joined the Zoom event, had been involved in MLK events in Poughkeepsie for decades. She was in Washington in August 1963 to witness Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech. She says it’s time to continue with his dream to end racism.

“With what’s going on in America right now, I feel that I’m right back where he started at," Parker-Harris says.

“This is a song that I’ve played on Martin Luther King Day for a number of years. And it was Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger down in Georgia, and I think it was 1962, and he wrote the song down there,” Nagel says. “And the only version I can find is Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan doing it together. It’s a wonderful song about white awakening and tying it to the class system and to the militarism.”

That’s activist and folk singer Fred Nagel.

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