On Monday, January 23rd, members of the Macon-Bibb County community gathered for a symposium that honored the life and political legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former state Senator Robert Brown of Macon.
The panel included Macon City Councilman, Henry Ficklin, Rep. David Lucas, Darryl Muhammed and local attorney Stephanie Miller.
This King-Brown symposium was an effort to discuss the difficult issues facing Central Georgia’s largest and most progressive city, Macon. However, this event was also about finding solutions to those difficult issues moving forward in 2012.
The symposium was sponsored by the Douglass Theatre and Macon’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission. The chairperson of the MLK Commission is Macon City Council’s Elaine Lucas.
The mission of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission is to promote understanding and acceptance of nonviolence and human equality as a way of building community among all citizens of the City of Macon and Bibb County by commemorating the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Former Macon mayor C. Jack Ellis was the moderator and referenced Dr. King’s 1967 book “Where Do We Go From Here?” : Chaos or Community.
King had reflected in that book on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and wanted to challenge African-Americans and the broader community in uniting against poverty and to create a new paradigm that brought equality of opportunity.
The city of Macon and the county of Bibb are at a crossroads and there are efforts by conservative Republicans and Dixiecrats to turn back the clock prior to the Voting and Civil Rights Act being passed in the mid-1960’s.
Before Dr. King’s death in 1968, there were efforts to organize the Memphis Sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
During the late 1960’s, conditions for black sanitation workers had gotten worse under former Memphis mayor Henry Loeb in January 1968.
Loeb refused to take dilapidated trucks out of service or pay overtime when men were forced to work late-night shifts. Sanitation workers earned wages so low that many were on welfare and hundreds relied on food stamps to feed their families.
The issue of poverty is prevalent here in Macon and according to the 2010 Census, the median household income is approximately $29,000 while the state average is approximately $49,000.
The Peach State has a poverty rate of 15 percent, but in Macon, the poverty rate is 29.8 percent–nearly double the state average.
Even though Macon has a different set of problems in 2012, but the issue of how city employees–many who are African-American– are being treated has become an issue along with the issue of consolidation of local government which would inevitably mean the loss or significant reduction of health and retirement benefits.
Trickle-down economics has never worked since the days of Ronald Reagan and the re-emergence of this failed policy under George W. Bush at the beginning of the new century has contributed to the problems that local governments are having today in regard to balancing their budgets.
Chaos or Community?
Fifty years ago, it was exponentially more difficult for African-Americans to make a difference at the ballot box. Here in Macon and Bibb County, it wasn’t until 1970’s when the community had its first African-American representative.
At the symposium, there were calls for Bibb County’s African-American community to truly unite and come together for the benefit of moving the community forward.
Darryl Muhammad made an interesting point and was quoted in the Macon Telegraph:
“We cannot integrate among ourselves,” he told the audience. “There’s an ugly beast of classism that has come into our community. We can’t take advantage of our numeric strength (at the voting booth). We have to come together. … We’re a community in crisis that needs to unite together and vote in a block.”
However, the issue of voter apathy in the African-American community has become an emerging problem despite renewed efforts by conservative lawmakers to put up more obstacles in regard to voting.
The city of Macon is approximately 70 percent African-American, but voter apathy has opened the door for local conservatives to undermine the Voting Rights Act through legislative efforts that come in the form of Rep. Allen Peake’s consolidation bill.
The next forum at the Douglass Theatre is on Feb. 20th at 6:30. The topic will be consolidation if there is a bill introduced in the Georgia General Assembly .