Local activists gathered in Marion Square this afternoon to remind locals about the work that lies ahead to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.

Named “South Carolina Is Still Killing the Dream,” the rally, organized by The Coalition, featured speeches in which local community organizers, elected officials, and politicians running for various offices quoted the late reverend and spoke firmly about policies that need to improve across the state.

Mayor John Tecklenburg delivered opening remarks for the crowd of about 60 people.

He referenced the progress of having two black men serve as Charleston and North Charleston’s police chiefs, and commended the efforts of the city’s Illumination Project — a series of listening sessions started in March 2016 to strengthen the bond between citizens and police, before urging citizens to keep making their voices heard.

“We celebrate the man, but it was more than a man, it was a movement,” Tecklenburg said. “It takes a movement of all of you, all of us, all of we to keep this thing going. I’d like to think positively that we’ve made some good progress.”

Mayor Tecklenburg, who initially resisted pursuing an individual audit of the Charleston Police Department and said that an advocacy group had “denigrated” the police department, will now oversee the creation of a scope of work for an independent audit after City Council voted in favor of one in November.

Dr. Jon Hale, an education professor at the College of Charleston, highlighted Dr. King’s writings on education and lamented South Carolina’s low test scores along with the “racism” behind policy proposals which can direct money away from public schools such as vouchers and tax breaks for private education.

“We’re reflecting on public education on Martin Luther King Day,” he said. “One thing he wrote in 1947 while a student at Moorehouse College, he wrote that, ‘Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.’ When we look at what the goal is supposed to be, we can look at the landscape of 2018 and see there’s a lot of character missing, there’s a lot of integrity missing.”

Hale then turned his attention to President Donald Trump’s recent comments in which he reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” in the context of immigration.

“Something is incredibly wrong when this country can elect someone who’s supposedly well-educated and can make a statement like that,” Hale said. “Something is wrong when other white elected officials can support statements like that.”

Pastor Thomas Dixon, head of The Coalition as well as a candidate for mayor of North Charleston in 2019, urged attendees to use their votes to support some of the politicians and candidates in attendance. State Sen. Marlon Kimpson and state Rep. David Mack were among the elected officials who took turns at the lectern. Joe Cunningham, a democratic challenger running for Rep. Mark Sanford’s seat in U.S. Congress; Josef Preston, who is running for state House seat in District 112; and Cindy Boatwright, who is running in Tuesday’s special election for State House District 99, also spoke.

The end of the gathering came with awards presented to a few of the women who participated in the Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike of 1969. The strike, which joined the “union power” of the labor movement with the “soul power” of the civil right’s movement, according to the CofC library, was led by employees of what is now the Medical University of South Carolina. It drew visits from many of the day’s top activists, including none other than Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow.

“I’m proud to be part of 69,” said Mary Alston, who along with Louise Brown, was one of the women present at the rally to accept her plaque. “We went through hell, some of us was beaten by the National Guard. Coretta Scott King went to jail. It was a struggle. I’m 82, and I’m still fighting to survive.”

A plaque was also presented to the family of Walter Scott and to Feidin Santana, the man who recorded video of Scott being shot by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.

Judy Scott, Walter’s mother, echoed words spoken by her family after Slager’s sentencing in December when she called Santana a “ram in the bush.”

Santana accepted the plaque and spoke about solidarity through a thick Dominican accent.

“Coming here you see so many people of different ages and nationalities,” he said. “This is what matters. This is important.”

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