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Nixon and other notables commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Day

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 18, 2010 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon exhorted hundreds of St. Louis residents packing Powell Hall on Monday to remember the virtues that best served the man they came to honor, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Recalling King's own words, Nixon said, "Real leadership takes more than vision ... it takes courage.''

King, said the governor, had embraced "selfless service and sacrifice'' as he sought to press for more freedom and opportunity for all people, most notably African-Americans who had faced discrimination for centuries.

But King made his mark on history, Nixon said, because of his success in demonstrating that victory didn't hinge on violence. Rather, King embraced the belief that "quiet voices of individuals can join together in a mighty chorus and bring change."

Although much needs to be done, the governor said that the progress in civil rights over the past 40-plus years since King's death offers the proof of his wisdom.

Nixon's remarks during Monday afternoon's interfaith services at Powell -- which also featured a litany of religious leaders, singers and dancers -- capped a day filled with events marking what would have been King's 81st birthday last Friday.

As with King, Monday's activities meshed the religious and political. The morning "civic ceremony'' in the Old Courthouse attracted many of the region's politicians from both political parties, including U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

Reed later Tweeted his favorite King quote: "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

A number of other officials also issued statements praising King, including U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis; Roy Blunt, R-Springfield; and Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth.

A number of the onlookers and civil rights activists then marched from the Old Courthouse to Powell.

The most notable absence from Monday's official ceremonies was St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who chose instead to participate in a new local effort, patterned after a national campaign that began more than a decade ago, to transform Dr. Martin Luther King Day from a day of talk into a day of action.

The local United Way chapter and some labor groups organized a number of one-day service projects that they hoped would attract more than 1,000 participants. Slay joined several dozen who spent Monday morning cleaning up a stretch of Branch Street, near the Great Rivers Greenway Trails by the McKinley Bridge.

Slay aides said the mayor had to miss the Old Courthouse ceremony because the service projects were scheduled at the same time. Aides say the decision had nothing to do with the heckling Slay received the last time he participated in the Old Courthouse ceremony, in 2008, during a tense controversy involving strains between the mayor and then-Fire Chief Sherman George.

In any case, Slay had made clear his plans last week on his blog, and even offered a cleanup progress report Monday on Twitter. He also exhorted other area residents to join him in honoring King through deeds instead of words.

Nixon -- although he chose to speak Monday at the church service -- sought to underscore his support for the service approach as well.

In a statement issued Sunday, the governor said, "Dr. King's life was one that reminds us that change is possible and that seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome through perseverance. As we honor the legacy of Dr. King this year, I encourage Missourians to participate in the King National Day of Service as a way to continue making this a better and stronger country."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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