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Friday, November 24, 2006

MLK Jr. Day in Greenville

Lottie Gibson, James Hennigen, and Sandy Lechner came from Greenville, South Carolina to the "Not In Our Town" gathering in Bloomington. This year was the very first time that their county officially celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. day with a day off for county workers. It took a bitter NINETEEN year struggle to win that recognition for MLK Jr. It was so much more than a battle for a day off. Even the largest march ever held in the county – 10,000 mostly black citizens in 2003 – had no effect on the 8 right wing commissioners who did not want to recognize the man they publicly labeled a Communist and a womanizer. The MLK Jr. Day activists needed three more votes on the commission. Greenville is an extremely Republican county and the activists decided they should focus their efforts on a Republican primary to elect moderates. The hard-fought Republican primary produced three victories against right wing commissioners, but the right wingers did not give up easily. They contested the closest race and a recount confirmed the victory. The right wingers then appealed to the party leaders and a new election was ordered for that district. A warning went out that arrests would be made if any Democrats (read Blacks) voted in the primary. That warning backfired on the right wingers. Many African Americans who risked their lives a generation earlier to gain the right to vote, saw the warning as a mean-spirited (illegal) challenge. When they found out that only Democrats who had voted in the Democratic primary were forbidden to vote in the Republican primary, they came out in force. (When a county is so overwhelmingly Republican, not many vote in a Democratic primary.) The right wing commissioner was beaten more soundly than in the previous election and recount. The new commission voted for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Greenville County has joined the rest of the U.S. in honoring the civil rights leader.

“It was a racist war, Lottie delared. “We had a war!”

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