NewsPhoenix Metro News


Valley church holds service to reflect history behind Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK celebration 1-19-20
Posted at 9:51 PM, Jan 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-20 16:51:35-05

PHOENIX — A Sunday celebration signals a rocky relationship that the state has with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"If you're only going to give us Sunday evening, we are going to take Sunday with a chokehold and let it be what is getting ready to be the future of Arizona," quoted a speaker at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Sunday evening during a special Martin Luther King Jr. Candlelight Service.

The person he quoted was Bishop Henry Barnwell in response to then-Arizona Governor Evan Mecham.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan officially signed Martin Luther Jr. Day into law. In the years after, many states started adopting the day for the third Monday of the month.

However, in Arizona, Governor Mecham rescinded his predecessor's acknowledgment of MLK Day on Monday, saying that Arizonans can celebrate on the evening of the third Sunday of every month, effectively raking away the paid day off on Monday.

Bishop Barnwell saw this as an opportunity, celebrating with a special service on those Sundays. Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church is carrying on that tradition of Sunday service.

"The atmosphere is dynamic," said Ron Williams, Chairmen of MLK Events and Activities, "The message is peace, harmony, he left a legacy of truth and bringing communities together, all communities."

"It is really a true calling to the memory of Martin Luther King as well as to his cause," said US Representative for Arizona Ruben Gallego, who makes it a point to attend the service every year. "If you're there you really feel the spirits that he created and is recreating now and helps us rededicate ourselves to the idea of justice."

For those who lived through the Civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr's words echo just as clear today as it was more than 50 years ago.

"Martin Luther King and his legacy, he's meant a lot to me over the years. I have a commitment that I have made for my own life that is in sync with, you know, his legacy," said Janie Walker, who attended the service.