Posted: Jan. 19, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The annual Martin Luther King Day breakfast, sponsored by state Rep. Hazel D. Plant and the Organization of Minority Women, is one of those can't-miss events in Delaware politics. It is also one of those can't-know what is going to happen.

The 20th annual breakfast, which brought about 400 people Monday morning to the Police Athletic League on Market Street in Wilmington, was as free-flowing as it gets. Certainly it celebrated King and the civil rights movement he led, but it also was part religious revival with prayers and singing and part politics. It was the same mix that King himself was.

Still, there was more. The breakfast also was a special recognition for breast cancer awareness. Plant, a Wilmington Democrat, and eight other members of the Minority Women wore pink double-breasted pant suits, and the program was printed on pink paper also to raise awareness.

This was one event that clearly not only talked about diversity but lived it.

The program reflected it, too, subject as it was to change without notice. People not listed in it gave prepared speeches -- including Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. -- and there was no telling who would do what when. The introduction for the keynote speaker, educator Gladys D.W. Motley, inexplicably was followed by a singing solo before she spoke.

The event ran so long, about two and a half hours, that Samuel E. Lathem, the Delaware AFL-CIO president who was the master of ceremonies, had to leave before the closing remarks.

There was not one shred of Philadelphia Eagles' green anywhere.

Less understandably, there were no signs of the Democratic presidential campaigns trolling for votes in the primary Feb. 3, even though Wilmington is a stronghold for the Democratic Party. The local political set knew enough to come, though, especially the Democrats.

Minner and Biden topped the list of Democratic statewide officeholders, who also included Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell. U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle was the only Republican statewide officeholder who attended.

State legislators, Wilmington and New Castle County officials were present, notably a number of Democrats hunting for new offices, such as County Council President Christopher A. Coons, who is running for county executive, County Councilman Penrose Hollins, who is running for council president, and City Councilman Norman M. Oliver, who is interested in running for the County Council. Coons and Hollins are expected to have primaries.

Mostly the focus was on remembering King and his message.

Motley, the keynote speaker, spoke of King's philosophy of peace, love and equality. "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. freed African-Americans from segregation, and in so doing, he freed America," she said. "His dream has not yet been fulfilled, but it remains alive."

Biden called King a transcendent figure. "Every one of the individuals from Christ through King who has fundamentally changed the way society treats its people, every one of these leaders had three things in common," he said.

"They had a whole hell of a lot of physical courage, in addition to mental courage. They were optimistic. They really did believe in the perfectibility of man. Not a single solitary one" -- and here Biden added Mohammed -- " was not tolerant. Tolerant of differences."

Perhaps the pink program itself summed up the essence of Martin Luther King Day the best. "The torch has been passed, and we have accepted the challenge," it said. "Please remember to register to vote."