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Personal principles, sacrifice focus of MLK luncheon tribute

The hall at Holy Ghost Church on Bethlehem’s Southside was so full on the morning of Jan. 15 that I wondered what the fire department would say if they decided to inspect.

Among others, the crowd that gathered to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. included Susan Wild, the congressperson of Pennsylvania’s Seventh District, J. William Reynolds, Bethlehem’s mayor, Lamont McClure, executive of Northampton County, Dr. Joseph Roy, superintendent of Bethlehem’s schools, and five members of the Bethlehem Police Department, among them Michelle Kott, the chief of police.

Also present were senior citizens, some in their 80s, a large number of students from Liberty HS, and several very young babies.

The place was packed, to put it mildly – young and old, white and black, public and private citizens who came to pay their respects to the memory of a man who would be celebrating his 94th birthday if he had been allowed to live so long.

Presiding over the celebration was the president of Bethlehem’s chapter of the NAACP, Esther M. Lee. Under her direction, an agenda chiefly of speeches and songs moved quickly. The tone was set at the start by Liberty HS’s four-person Color Guard, who marched to the front of the hall carrying the Stars and Stripes and then led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem.

Dr. King’s personal principles and sacrifice would be front and center throughout the morning’s activities, but, as the Color Guard showed, patriotism and what it means to be American were the deep issues.

Highlights of the morning’s events included moving performances by Liberty’s Chorus of several hymns, especially the song so closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome.”

The chorus was led by its director, Julie Wydrzynski. Also, two students read their prize-winning essays on the topic, “How Would Dr. King Address the Problem of Homelessness Today?”

Under Ms. Lee’s good-humored but firm leadership, visiting politicians managed to keep their speeches to a limit of two minutes, more or less.

To conclude a stirring and interesting morning, members of the audience were invited to enjoy bag lunches, cookies and cold drinks as guests of the Bethlehem NAACP.

Daryl Wilson, a student at Liberty HS, is joined at the celebration honoring Dr. King by his uncle, Kevin Gray. Daryl was one of the winners of an essay competition sponsored by the Bethlehem NAACP.
Beginning after they were freed during the Civil War, African-Americans have served in the U.S. armed services in disproportionately high numbers compared to their percentage of the general population. John C. Betts of Bethlehem, who completed several tours in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne, wears insignia honoring the service of Black soldiers from the days of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Mayor William Reynolds chats with the Sobrinski family of Bethlehem, including daughter Zoe (right), a student at Broughal MS, who was a winner of the Bethlehem NAACP essay contest.
With a drum tapping out the pace and the audience standing at attention, the Liberty HS Color Guard marches to the front of the gathering, to lead the group in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Does the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day have a future? We're looking at it. Alexander Joyner (R) and his partner, Margarita Barreto, brought their son, Seven Joyner, to pay his respects to the great American. They'll be back, they said. More photos on A4.
PRESS PHOTOS BY DENNIS GLEW Before singing the National Anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the moving hymn about Black freedom known as the National Negro Hymn, the Liberty Chorus listened to introductory comments from the president of the Bethlehem NAACP, Ms. Esther M. Lee. She was joined (left to right) by Tomacene Nickens, first vice president, and the Reverend Clinton Bryant, second vice president. Seated beyond Rev. Bryant are Rev. Lindsey Altvater Clifton and Rev. Kari Holmes.
Unique Small, Ieft, a special education teacher at Donegan ES, and Azariah Drungo, a senior at Liberty HS, join other women in serving bagged lunches and cookies to guests who chose to stay for lunch and fellowship after the celebration. The cookies were gone in a hurry.