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Millner: Not yet in Promised Land

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In the 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech, the nation has come along way, but that does not mean it has reached the Promised Land, according to Curtis Millner, chairman of the board of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI).

Obstacles that minorities have overcome include as access to public facilities such as restaurants, he said. “We also have access to equal and quality education, so that has been for the most part overcome.”

Strides have been made in housing, and “you can live where you want to, or wherever you can afford, at least,” Millner said.

But progress has been lacking in the political arena, he said.

“The biggest problem that I’ve seen is we’ve not really made that many strides or advancements in” politics, aside from electing the first black president and a black governor in Virginia, Millner said of Barack Obama and former Gov. Doug Wilder, respectively.

“But locally, I’ve not seen an increase” in minorities holding public office, Millner said. Martinsville has three public officials, he said of Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge and school board Chairman Robert Williams and member Bishop J.C. Richardson Sr.

As a member of the Henry County School Board, Millner is the only minority serving in an elected position in Henry County, “and most of the surrounding communities have even less than that,” he said. “I do think we’ve made some strides, but I wish we would have in the political arena.”

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — also known as The Great March — 50 years ago “served a useful purpose,” Millner said. “Today, we don’t need marches, because that door is open. What we need are those same people to register to vote, serve on public boards and get in other positions to do what is necessary to make changes.”

Locally, the race situation is “somewhat volatile right now” due to recent incidents at the national and local levels, Millner said. “But I think this too can be worked out.”

King’s speech “I don’t think will be relevant in another 50 years. We have lapses or periods of inactivity, but I think we will work to see things improve. Sometimes, when a person has accomplished what they want, they become complacent, and that causes things to turn back to the way they were,” Millner said.

But today, King’s speech “is still relevant because as a nation, if we are to survive, it will only be with all groups, races, cultural and ethnic backgrounds working together,” Millner said. “We will need to continue to do that if we are to survive in this world. I look at all the ethnic fighting in the Middle East” in places like Egypt, Iraq and Iran, Millner said.

“If we had that kind of fighting here, it would bring us down. We need to continue working together as a group because that’s where our strength lies,” he said.


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