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Chicago activist recalls King’s words: ‘I’m black and I’m beautiful’

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Updated: February 22, 2014 6:20AM

In the same West Side neighborhood the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lived temporarily 48 years ago, dozens gathered Monday to remember and celebrate his legacy.

About 30 people, including several who had met King, attended a “celebration” of King’s life at North Lawndale’s New Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church, roughly 2 miles from the apartment he moved into — temporarily — with his family in the mid-1960s.

Lewis Myers, 66, a civil rights attorney and activist who lives in the Chicago area, told those assembled Monday afternoon that he was a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where King gave one of his final speeches before his 1968 assassination.

“He was always a very modest, a very humble man . . . he said ‘I’m black and I’m beautiful,’ ” Lewis told the crowd, quoting King’s speech.

Luster Jackson, 80, a now retired community activist and Chicago resident, recalled that he talked with King just once, but on this day Jackson was remembering the late civil rights leader’s work — and how it must be picked up by the next generation.

“Dr. King did great work, but this community is unique . . . the struggle began a long time ago and we never stopped fighting,” Jackson said.

“Someone said the greatest enemy of the system is strength, is truth, and truth is on our side.”

Monday marked the celebration of what would have been King’s 85th birthday. Though he was actually born on Jan. 15, his birthday has been commemorated as a national holiday on the third Monday of January for the past 28 years.

Illinois was the first state to recognize King’s birthday as a holiday. His birthday has been observed in Illinois since 1973.

King’s first Northern Civil Rights Campaign was in Chicago in 1966, two years before his assassination in Memphis, Tenn. One of his primary focuses in Chicago was establishing equal housing.

He lived in North Lawndale in an apartment at 1550 S. Hamlin that has since been demolished. Today at the site of his former residence, which is now 1515 S. Hamlin, stand Dr. King Legacy Apartments.

The building, which opened in 2011, offers 45 units of affordable rental housing, keeping alive King’s goal to provide fair housing practices in Chicago.

King was remembered at other events across the Chicago area. On Monday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped paint a public mural in celebration of King Day at Rogers Park’s Sullivan High School. On Monday night, the Chicago Sinfonietta hosted a concert at Symphony Center premiering Dutch composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis “Mountain Top,” which was inspired by one of King’s famous speeches “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top.”.

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