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Cora Stafford remembers a time in Black Mountain when she and her friends couldn’t go to the movie theater where the town square parking lot is now. The building that now houses Town Hardware used to hold a drug store that wouldn’t let black people sit at the counter.

Stafford, who retired from the state as a case work technician, was talking at home the other day about how things have gotten better in the Valley. The bright morning was a couple of weeks before the 28th Annual Swannanoa Valley Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Prayer Breakfast onFeb. 10 at Camp Dorothy Walls.

Stafford rattled off the names of several people she knew who were the first black Valley residents to work in formerly all-white businesses. Progress has been made, she said. But she’s not as optimistic as she used to be.

“It seems like we are going backwards instead of going forwards,” she said. “A lot of times I think that people have forgotten about him (King) altogether and what he stood for.”

That makes the prayer breakfast all the more important, said several residents whose thoughts The Black Mountain News solicited last week.

“We’re still wrestling with (race),” said the Rev. Michael Carter, minister of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley. “I think (King) would be happy to see coalitions forming between women and men and difference classes against this present administration. But I think he’d still be frustrated with things like (the white supremacist march in) Charlottesville. I think he would say we’ve come a long, long way, but we have got a long, long way to go.”

“He was always talking about the greatest question we can ask ourselves - what can we do for others, how can we serve instead of being narcissistic and self-centered.”

More work needs doing in part because young black Americans aren’t doing it, according to Carlos Showers, a Black Mountain alderman. “One kid told me once, ‘Why are you making such a big deal out of this now? That’s old news,’” Showers said. “There’s not the effort to get out there to do things,” he said.

Indeed, it seems that more white than black are fighting for minorities’ rights these days, he said. He attributes that to “complacency” among some older African Americans.

“It’s like running a race,” he said. “You run so far and then you get tired. Then folks just get settled in. They’ve gotten to the point where (life) is good for them now, so why jeopardize what they have.”  

He himself is less “militant” than he used to be growing up in Mobile, Alabama, he said. There he was “very involved” with the civil rights movement, he said. He met and/or listened to many civil rights leaders and black activists, including King, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Stokely Carmichael, Rapp Brown and Huey Newton.

Twenty-seven years ago, some Montreat residents wanted their town to declare the MLK holiday a paid holiday for town employees, according to local activist Monroe Gilmour. The town council meetings about the issue were tense, but eventually town commission made the day a paid holiday.

“Later,” Gilmour said last week via email, “the then-mayor wrote to me saying he could see that sometimes feathers have to be ruffled to bring about justice.”

That’s what civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis called “getting into good trouble,” Gilmour said. “With the white supremacist backlash we saw in Charlottesville, the current tone in our nation, and in dispiriting words coming even out of the White House,” Gilmour said, “each of us can learn much from Dr. King and take heart as we stand on his and others' shoulders getting into ‘good trouble' for racial justice and, indeed, justice across many social spheres.”

Though not as optimistic as she used to be, Stafford also isn’t pessimistic – if Americans can look past the color of someone’s skin, something King famously argued for.

“If we think about what he was trying to accomplish, once again it goes back to that love thing,” she said. “We need to love everybody. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is. Or where you’re from. We need to love.”

Get tickets to the MLK breakfast

The 28th Annual Swannanoa Valley Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Prayer Breakfast will be at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 at Camp Dorothy Walls on Cragmont Road. Pastor George Logan, a native of Black Mountain, will be the keynote speaker. Tickets - $15 adults and $6 children 3-12 – are available at svmlk.org. Money raised will go to outstanding Swannanoa Valley High School students for the 2018-19 school year.

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