BILL ROBINSON, COLUMN 5:33 p.m. EST February 25, 2016
Story was copied from DelmarvaNow.com
Members of Alpha Kappa Alpha on the lower Eastern Shore wanted to celebrate the national sorority’s 70th anniversary in a spectacular way in 1978, so they invited a high-profile guest to their party.
During the last weekend of February that year,Coretta Scott King came to the Lower Shore, where she received a key to the city of Salisbury from Mayor Elmer Ruark and was the guest of honor at a luncheon on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore campus.
She delivered a talk to what a local newspaper described as a capacity crowd at the 1,200-seat Ella Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts.
A snapshot taken following a luncheon that day – Feb. 25 – shows Mrs. King emerging from UMES’ Student Development Center with Omega Moore Jones Frazier (a 1926 alumnus) at her side.
Just two years after President Jimmy Carter established the precedent of declaring February “Black History Month,” Mrs. King’s visit warranted articles in The Daily Times and the Marylander and Herald, a weekly newspaper published in Princess Anne.
The first paragraph of the Marylander and Herald article described her as “the celebrity of celebrities” who endured “a tiring, whirlwind two days of events.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha’s graduate chapter, Delta Sigma Omega, and the UMES undergraduate chapter, Alpha Omicron, sponsored the sorority’s Founders’ Dayactivities. Luncheon proceeds went to support the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change founded by Mrs. King in 1968, the year of her husband’s assassination.
The speech at UMES delivered by Mrs. King, an honorary AKA member, amplified her late husband’s mantra as the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights leader. She pointed out Native Americans, Hispanics – even farmers – had emerged as voices demanding “human rights.” She also mentioned a need to support the cause of women’s rights.
Mrs. King urged the audience to prod Congress to pass the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978, federal legislation that prohibited discrimination based on gender, religion, race, age and national origin in any (jobs) program created under the act.
As her husband did, she challenged listeners to register to vote, the Marylander and Herald reported, which quoted her as saying “the ballot is a powerful tool at everyone’s disposal.”
Friday evening prior to her UMES visit, Mrs. King attended an invitation-only reception at what was then the Sheraton Inn in Salisbury that drew an estimated 200 people.
Credited by The Times with organizing the festivities were Mrs. Frazier, identified as the Delta Sigma Omega chapter president at the time; Ruby Holland Lynk, a past president; and members Mary Chapman and Mary Fair Burks, a UMES English professor.
Burks was friends with Dr. and Mrs. King when they all lived in Alabama in the 1950s, where a bus boycott in Montgomery sparked the Civil Rights movement. Burks, who also knew Rosa Parks, taught at UMES for 26 years, retiring in 1986.
Bill Robinson is director of public relations at University of Maryland Eastern Shore.