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300 gather for city’s annual MLK breakfast

The Rev. Lewis Lassiter gives the invocation before the buffet breakfast as Mayor Robert Walker, left, and Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. pray during the 12th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast at the Vicksburg Convention Center Monday morning. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

[01/15/01] It was a hot August in 1964 when a crowd hungry for freedom packed Vicksburg’s Pleasant Green M.B. Church to hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That was 36 years ago, but King’s spirit still lives, personified and multiplied by the nearly 300 who gathered at the Vicksburg Convention Center Monday morning to honor his birthday.

“This is the greatest turnout yet,” said James Giles, president of the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, sponsor of the 12th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast. Giles said the six scholarships to be awarded Monday helped carry on King’s legacy to another generation.

“He stood for justice for all,” Giles said. “Based on that, we want to give these children a chance for a good education.”

Eddie Thomas, who received today’s community service award, said he still remembers King’s 1964 visit to Vicksburg like it was yesterday. The 74-year-old barber and community activist had his own speaking part at that memorable gathering.

“He was a real influential man, and a powerful speaker,” Thomas said of meeting King. “You couldn’t help but like him and believe in his message, and believe that he was sent by God.”

Thomas, who opened his barber shop in Vicksburg in the late ’40s, quickly became involved in helping register blacks to vote and collecting money to help them pay the poll taxes then required of anyone wanting to cast a ballot.

He was a delegate from the Freedom Democrats to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J. shortly after King’s visit.

Carlton Lee, 12, was born a generation later, but still understands the importance of celebrating King’s legacy.

“We learned about him in school,” Lee said. “He helped us have freedom.”

Quincy Cooper received a $500 special needs scholarship at the breakfast. Receiving $100 scholarships were Amber Nicole Frazier, Patrick Earl Tucker Jr., Melanie Yanier Wells, Delesic Adams and Jarvis Wayne Turner.

The fraternity began the annual breakfasts after Martin Luther King Day was proclaimed a national holiday by President Reagan but before it was made a holiday in Mississippi, which also honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee with a holiday today.

The speaker for this morning’s event was Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr., a native of Vicksburg and president of a college in Dallas.

More speakers and presentations continued through the day, starting at 1 p.m. at Vicksburg Auditorium and culminating with a planned torchlight procession at the King Memorial on Openwood.

The civil rights leader made several visits to Vicksburg and appeared in many churches here before his assassination in Memphis in 1968.