HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - In the Rocket City, the resounding message on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was all about the importance of following in Dr. King’s footsteps and getting more young people involved in carrying on his legacy.
More than 1,500 people attended the 34th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast, hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at the Von Braun Center.
Radio host and activist Frederick Whitlow II and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle were this year’s recipients of the Unity Award. It recognizes those in the community dedicated to the causes of unity, justice and equality.
Both men said they were honored and humbled to receive the award.
“I'm really grateful,” Whitlow stated. “It's about those who are marginalized. We have to do more. It's easy. If we come together and I put something on it and you put something on it, unity becomes empowering. It has to be more than just a day. I'm glad for the day but it really has to be a movement.”
Battle added: "The honor wasn’t for me. It was for our community. It’s for the city of Huntsville and Madison County and what we do on a daily basis and what everybody does in this area to work towards unity, equality and prosperity and making sure that everybody is part of the formula of success that is our community.”
There were some, however, who didn’t think Battle should have received the Unity Award, sparking backlash. A group of pastors, community leaders and residents from North Huntsville organized a protest to get their message across.
Outside the Von Braun Center, several protestors held up signs with strong messages about Huntsville getting the award.
“When we look at the highway that is the North Parkway, economic development is the biggest issue that we’re having in North Huntsville,” said Ocie Maddox Jr.
Inside the event, a number of people got up and walked out before the mayor was given the award.
“Martin Luther King espoused an inclusive doctrine. Our mayor practices an exclusive doctrine, only for those at the top of the ladder. We are observers in a parade of economic development in Huntsville, but we’re not participants,” Reverend Oscar Montgomery, pastor of Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church and president of the North Huntsville Community United for Action (NHCUA).
NHCUA and the Greater Huntsville Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship (GHIMF), community oriented groups composed of pastors, ministers, black elected officials, other community leaders, and others residing in north Huntsville were appalled at this unbelievable decision, Rev. Montgomery said.
The mayor responded, saying “Just last week, we were talking about a road going across A&M’s campus connecting it to the parkway so we could have a hotel up at Alabama A&M. We’re talking about industry coming in like Aerojet Rocketdyne and Facebook. We’re talking about MLK being extended so we that we have a Northern Bypass. We’re talking a new library, more parks. We want to make sure that we take care of every part of this city.”
He also mentioned the redevelopment of Johnson Legacy Complex, the campus of the former Johnson High School which is part of the city's master plan. The site is large enough to accommodate a range of uses in order for it to be repurposed.
“If you look at all of that, we're going to see a lot of things happening in the area,” Battle explained.
But north Huntsville leaders say they’ve heard it all before without seeing results and want to hold the city’s feet to the fire when it comes to those projects taking shape.
“All we’ve had is sweet conversations and sweet promises. when it comes to putting money and action behind promises, we’re falling woefully short,” Rev. Montgomery said. “We need to stop pretending that things are alright and that things are where we need to be.”
The mayor also had this to say: “There are more and more things coming for not only north Huntsville, but also South Huntsville, East Huntsville, West Huntsville. I’m the mayor of the whole city. We want to make sure that everyone is at that table and be part of our success. We will continue to work towards that."
The city encouraged residents to use Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day to participate in community service. The national MLK holiday was established as a Day of Service in 1994, a “Day On, Not a Day Off.”
For volunteer opportunities – for today and beyond – visit the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville’s Non-Profit Directory.