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MLK Day events planned for Monday

POSTED: January 16, 2014 12:39 a.m.

Growing up during segregation, Bill Coates saw the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. differently than many other whites, including those closest to him.

“Some of the people in my household — grandparents and so forth — weren’t big fans of his, as a lot of elderly white people weren’t in those days, especially in the South,” said Coates, senior minister of First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville.

“Even though I was steeped in what they had taught me — the beliefs they had given me and the prejudices as well, I suppose — King sounded like wisdom to me, like something from God to me. There was something beautiful about his dream that sounded not only very human and very right, but thoroughly Christian.”

Coates plans to share those personal reflections as keynote speaker at Monday’s 44th annual Martin Luther King Celebration sponsored by The Newtown Florist Club.

The event is set to begin with a 1 p.m. march from SunTrust Bank, 121 E.E. Butler Parkway, to Fair Street School, 695 Fair St., traveling around the downtown square and crossing E.E. Butler Parkway.

“I really want to encourage people to participate,” said Rose Johnson, who is on the planning committee for the march. “I would like to have a diverse group of people.”

A program marking MLK Jr. Day is set to begin at 2 p.m. at Fair Street School.

Many area officials and clergy have been invited to the event, with former Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell expected to introduce Coates, said Elfreda Lakey, who is coordinating the program.

Lakey, who is assistant superintendent for human resources and operations for Gainesville City Schools, said she expects that, despite the number of planned speakers and other guests, the program should be shorter than it has been in the past.

“Once it gets going, it will flow pretty good,” she said.

King, who would have turned 85 on Jan. 14, was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Federal legislation was signed in 1983 creating a federal holiday marking his birthday.

The theme for this year’s holiday observation is “Promises to Keep and Miles to go Before We Sleep,” a paraphrase of a line from the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Coates said he plans to speak on the theme, but he wants to also talk about how the civil rights leader “shaped me in some ways.”

“King became something of a hero for me, I’m sure not in the same way as he may have for ... victims of segregation and prejudice all those years,” he said. “But he became a powerful figure of courage and someone willing to stand for what was essentially very right and true, even at the price of his own life.”


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