On Monday, January 10, 2011, the Economic Opportunity Authority (EOA) held its 39th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance.
The theme for the occasion was “Unity: King’s Beloved Country.” The speaker for the occasion was Shirley Sherrod, ousted Department of Agriculture Georgia State Director of Rural Development. Sherrod was forced to resign from her position after a conservative blogger posted video excerpts on his website claiming she had discriminated against a white farmer. After a storm of controversy and the truth was revealed, Sherrod was offered another job, which she declined. Sherrod delivered a heartfelt speech in which she shared her story and played out for the crowd the events that lead to her being forced to resign. Sherrod told the crowd that hers was a story of how the murder of her father affected her negatively in her feeling towards some whites. She overcame that.
“God made me realize that I couldn’t just help black people, but I had to help his people.”
After speaking, Sherrod was presented with the James T. Deason Award. Local artist Arthur Milton presented Sherrod with a beautiful portrait painting.
Other honorees included William B. Jackson, Sr. former NAACP President who received the Ralph Mark Gilbert Award, Johnny L. Drayton, Civil Rights Activist, and Rev. Willie Bolden received the Earl M. Jones Award, and the W.W. Law Award was presented posthumously to Judge H. Sol Clark.
Awards were also presented to Rev. Noel Cooper and Rev. Harold Baker who were instrumental in the organization of this celebration nearly forty years ago.
Prior to 1972 there was no continuous local community activity in honor of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. With the exception of Atlanta, Georgia, there were few cities around the United States that paused to honor the slain Civil Rights leader and his contribution to human rights,
In January, 1972, at 1112 Whitaker Street, the Mid-town branch of the local Economic Opportunity Authority began the first celebration among community agencies to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s Memory alive. Two black and two white ministers, along with EOA staff and guests met for an hour in a layman’s service that gave rise too one of the country’s largest commemorations.