Pastor ignites MLK message

Rev. Lee: I’m on the path to become a dangerous Negro!
Rev. William Lee, pastor, Loudon Ave. Christian Church delivers an impassioned speech at the annual NCA&T Breakfast honoring the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.   photos by S. Hale
Rev. William Lee, pastor, Loudon Ave. Christian Church delivers an impassioned speech at the annual NCA&T Breakfast honoring the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. photos by S. Hale

by S. Rotan Hale

All things considered, this year’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration sponsored by North Carolina A&T State University Alumni Association was unequivocally one for the books.

In the spirit of the slain civil rights icon, organization president Gale Graves set the opening tone, “Dr. King challenged us whether we are Black or White–no matter what religion we practice because we are more alike than we are different. His dream of America was a dream for America…that he fought and died for.”

Throughout her intro, Graves revealed various astonishing facts proving Dr. King’s brilliance as a young man. She quoted excerpts from a well-crafted letter King wrote in 1946 at 17 years old while a sophomore at Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA).

The letter eloquently outlined several specifics relative to unjust conditions facing Blacks during that period. It was sent to the Atlanta Constitution–the biggest newspaper in Atlanta during that time.

The well-attended breakfast was held at Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center with a most appropriate theme “Remember–Celebrate–Act.”

The program was highlighted with a spirited routine by the Westside Steppers under the direction of Jeff May who for years has been an incredible motivating force in the Roanoke City School System.

Westside Steppers perform during breakfast program.
Westside Steppers perform during breakfast program.

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Avery Bolden (right) and Kiana Bell enact a mini-drama about King’s life.
Avery Bolden (right) and Kiana Bell enact a mini-drama about King’s life.

Local high school students Kiana Bell and Avery Bolden enacted a mini-drama about King’s life as told by several of his relatives and Maya Cooke dramatized the life of civil rights heroine Rosa Parks. Additionally students from Roanoke’s Jefferson Center led by Dylan Locke (artistic dir.) contributed music to the affair.

As part of an enhanced presentation, video footage of a more radical Dr. King speaking prophetically in various settings were shown and ended with him shouting “I’m Black and proud, I’m Black and beautiful.” The footage set the stage for what turned into possibly one of the most captivating speeches ever to bless this annual event. Guest speaker Rev. William Lee, pastor, Loudon Ave. Christian Church delivered that memorable speech to a crowd thirsting for a message that was served in grand fashion.

 “Many of you won’t believe what I’m about to say,” Rev. Lee warned before launching his attack on critics and those lukewarm to the struggle that continues to plague our nation and the world. “It is amazing what the white media can do,” he said with an uncanny boldness speaking about how the press crucified Dr. King long before his assassination in 1968.

“I came to speak this morning about the most dangerous Negro in America,” Rev. Lee said referring to the label given to Dr. King by the FBI and other more covert foes.

Through a speech that lasted less than 15 min. Rev. Lee talked about the FBI’s efforts to blackmail the iconic civil rights leader (regarding certain indiscretions) and a memo from the organization that suggested he kill himself to avoid exposure. Such efforts failed as Dr. King was no pawn to fear and was therefore a “danger” to the racists establishment of that time.

With that Rev. Lee said, “I’m looking for some dangerous people” and proceeded to speak on 3 areas where “King tells us to be dangerous.”

He first lifted King’s ability to pull Blacks, Whites, rich and poor together to a cause–making it a “rainbow movement” through which “you’re guaranteed to get attention,” he said.

“Martin cared about poor people. You’re dangerous when you care about poor people,” Rev. Lee said stressing his second point. Directly addressing local issues of class consciousness, he boldly stated, “I deplore this city, it upsets me with its quadrant system…folks always want to know where you live. What difference does it make? We’ve got to somehow rally and become one people, on one issue and make one difference.”

He also spoke about how Dr. King learned that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meaningless to the plight of the poor because it didn’t bring real life prosperity (jobs, money, etc) to those underprivileged.

What first were cautious applauds from an audience astonished by Lee’s message–later turned into continuous applauds throughout his speech and ultimately 3 standing ovations ensued for the pastor who dared to speak such unpopular truth.

With an unabashed newfound freedom Rev. Lee continued to lift a multitude of hard-hitting precepts designed to empower those receptive among the crowd of 300 plus in attendance.

Audience members join in traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome.”
Audience members join in traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

Speaking to the local press the pastor said, “Now I’m becoming one of the most dangerous people in the Roanoke Valley. They are going to put it in the Roanoke Times but go ahead, I’m in a place in life now, what can you do with me now?”

Gaining momentum, he spoke emphatically of the power of a poor peoples campaign saying, “If poor people came together we could change congress.”

Addressing the myth that Blacks are the only ones getting help from Social Services he quoted figures that show more Whites seeking assistance and said, “Poor is poor it has no creed or color… I have discovered that the real color problem in America is not Black, is not White but green (money).”

Raising his final point Rev. Lee said “we are all Negroes if we all come together and work for the common good, we all have a common name,” and ceased to elaborate further.

Closing strong Rev. Lee used Dr. King’s words and said, “The most powerful thing that happened in the civil rights movement was that the Black man finally stood up and realized that he was somebody.”

“Martin helped us to over come our nappy hair, over come our big noses, overcome our big butts… an declare that we are Black and we are proud… And our children need to hear over and over again that they are somebody!”

Lee was on fire and his statements blazed a trail of truth, certitude and commitment. Those who know and are familiar with the powerful and elevating force of his sermons will agree that this was no ordinary Bill Lee sermon. In fact, it was more of a proclamation and a clarion call for all to get involved with the new (and necessary) civil rights movement taking shape across our country.

This momentous gathering with all its surprises, came to a triumphant close with the traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome.”