Dr. King's positive impact on legal system emphasized
By Jim Turner


Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM



African Americans are not the only ones who have benefited greatly from the efforts of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., those participating in the 24th Annual Commemorative Unity Walk in Russellville emphasized Friday.
The event is held each year near the time of Dr. King's birthday to honor his contributions to equal rights. This year's theme was "King's Influence on the Legal System."

Keynote speaker J. Michael Brown, who serves as secretary of the Justice Department and Public Safety Cabinet in Kentucky, said that when Dr. King made people realize that black people were being treated unfairly, it led to awareness that women, people with international heritages and the disabled were also victims of discrimination. He tried to make the students from Russellville and Logan County high schools who were in attendance at the Logan County Courthouse realize how different things are today from the
days of Dr. King's youth.
"How many of you who were afraid when you came in to this courtroom today that you would be in danger, that you would be
mistreated?" he asked. "None of you? Then you must be Americans."
Yet that was not alway so, he noted. In Dr. King's day people had to fear injustice in the courtroom. At that time people did not have the opportunity to learn about how others were being mistreated. This was long before the days of 24-hours news programs, the Internet, YouTube, cell and camera phones, and Twitter.
"Very few people even had televisions in the early fifties, but as those who did began seeing people being abused and treated unjustly during the racial unrest in the South, they started to realize how unfair that was," Brown said.

People should not be mistreated or even treated differently because of what lawyers call "immutable characteristics," such as the color of their skin, birth defects, place of birth or their gender, factors over which they had no control. Dr. King was not a lawyer, but he helped bring about improvements in the judicial center for millions of people with immutable characteristics.
Secretary Brown, a veteran himself, noted that his father fought in World War II in a segregated army. Black soldiers were often not allowed to eat or sleep in the same places as white soldiers. "Why did you do it when they treated you that way?" Michael Brown asked his dad. "He said he did it for me and my sister. Later I did if for my three sons. Now I'm in the position that I am over the prisons and officers of the law. I try to promote justice for all citizens. Martin Luther King Jr. did that."
Dr. King was murdered before his 40th birthday, but his legacy lives on to those who were unborn.

Local African American historian Michael Morrow said he was five when he heard people crying out in their yards near Russellville's KP Hall upon learning of King's death. "I went to see my grandmother, who was mean, and she was crying," he said. "I thought we must be kin to this man."
Many of the older African Americans in the big courtroom still feel a kinship to the slain civil rights leader today.
Morrow-- upon the urging of Circuit Judge Tyler Gill, who served as master of ceremonies-- told the story of four black men being lynched in 1908 without cause. The men who did the hanging being dressed in white robes and masks. Although those who did the lynching were never brought to justice, enough white people in the community realized that this mob behavior along with over a dozen other lynchings were wrong. They began to put pressure on Logan County to reform.
Morrow said he is still concerned about people carrying guns in the predominately minority area of Russellville known as "The Bottom." "People say, 'I'm not going down there; it's too dangerous,' Morrow said. ""I'll tell you this: I'm going to be down there trying to make things better until the day I die."

Gill talked about civil disobedience in Logan County's history, including being known as Rogue's Harbor in its earliest years and then the problem with the Black Patch Wars dealing with tobacco a century ago. He said as recently as 30 years ago people were still "buying votes" here. He also told the story of an Hispanic man who was robbed and beaten in South Logan a few years ago. Although there was overwhelming evidence against a man accused of the crime, he was acquiited by a unanimous decision of the jury, the judge said. "That was not a result of the evidence."

Public Defender Leinani Krashin said her clients often ask her what the color composition will be of the jury which decides their fate. "Unfortunately black jurors don't show up for duty," she said, adding that those who do serve tend not to be sympathetic toward some categories of defendants. "When I went to law school, I didn't know I was going to be the most unpopular person in the courtroom because of the people I would be defending."
Krashin, who is of Asian descent, said she was adoptd by "two old white people, a father who migrated after the Holocaust and a mother who grew up poor." They cared for and adopted several children, some of them black. She said as a short woman of Asian descent, she is often treated differently, which helps her relate to those who are different from the majority.
She and Judge Gill both expressed concern that people with mental illnesses still don't receive equal protection under the law.

Commonwealth Attorney Gail Guiling told of a different kind of discrimination. She didn't start college until she was over 40, graduated from Western Kentucky University with highest honors, and then went to Harvard Law School. She said she was surprised to learn that Harvard, which is considered liberal, did not start admitting women to its law school in its first two centuries and that she graduated in only the 50th class that included women. "I was judged as an old white woman from the South. When they would hear my accent, they would assume I was stupid," she said.

Charles Neblett, who organized the event along with his wife Marvinia Benton Neblett through Community Projects Inc., could speak from experience. An original Freedom Singer, he was one of the young people from the North who marched with Dr. King in the South. "I grew up when everything was segregated, but it was the law. Black people could be jailed, beaten and put to death (for attempting integration). All institutions supported it, including preachers and churches. Martin Luther King Jr. thought that moral law was higher than civil law."

Danny Finch , an African American who has served on the Adairville City Council for 28 years, said he considers King a "man sent by God. Dr. King's love was like your grandparents' holding your hand."
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Joe Ross told the group about civil rights leader Megar Evers, who was murdered for his beliefs and leadership. He said it took 30 years, a number of trials and improvement in the judicial system for his assassain to be convicted.

Also on the program were Mt. Herman Baptist Church pastor Lee Fishback, who led two prayers and presented certificates-- with the help of Kesi Neblett and Molly Thompson-- to those who had made the observance a success; Russellville student Phillip Clemons, who led the singing of the national anthem; the Logan County High School JROTC flag unit; and sisters Anna, Rebecca and Christina Link, who led the singing of "Amazing Grace."
Among those honored were teachers Ken Brown, Veronica Johnson, Toby Turpin and Ethan Meguiar, who had brought high school students to the program with the help of principals John Myers and Casey Jaynes, and Judge/Executive Logan Chick, who paid for the printing of the programs.
Many of those in attendance had marched to the courthouse from Bank Street AME Zion Church, which was also honored, as were law enforcement officers and the media.




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