Mayor Debe Hollingsworth on Tuesday delivered an emotionally charged challenge for Pine Bluffians to set aside their differences in working to make the Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream of mutual respect and equality a reality here. Her words earned a standing ovation at a joint meeting of the Pine Bluff and West Pine Bluff Rotary Clubs at the Pine Bluff Country Club.
“Can we only imagine?” Hollingsworth asked several times in her remarks, which kicked off the week-long ICVR (Interested Citizens for Voter Registration) KingFest and Justice Sunday observance. KingFest is marking its 30th anniversary in Pine Bluff.
The mayor asked audience members to ponder on what King might say about Pine Bluff and its current status.
“It has been almost 50 years since his untimely death,” Hollingsworth said. “During this time, have we paused to think of what Dr. King’s advice for us would be as we face our crime situation in Pine Bluff? I think he would remind us of his vision of the non-violence movement.”
The mayor then reflected on King’s speech from Oslo, Norway, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
“Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts,” quoted the mayor, who added that the phrase equates into declaring the two as “polarized opposites.”
“Nonviolence is not sterile passivity,” she continued in sharing King’s words, “but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later, all the peoples of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace and therefore transform this pending cosmic elegy.”
Hollingsworth said that in many of his profound addresses, King reflected on the power of total peace through unity.
“He stated, ‘Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence,’ ” Hollingsworth said in quoting King. “He said, ‘Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.’ ”
Hollingsworth said King also shared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness — only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate — only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more war — must be broken.”
King, the mayor observed, also said he rejected “despair as a final response to the ambiguities of history”and “the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless night of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
The mayor gave her impressions of King’s remarks.
“What he is saying is that we are not particles of matter that are simply floating through this era in time like wreckage from a ship,” she said. “We can influence the unfolding of events that will change our city.
“Dr. King would remind us it is time we move racism out of our own way,” she said. “It is time that we stand up collectively and take back our community.”
Hollingsworth said if a unified effort to correct wrongs here possesses the same “courage, vigor and tenacity” exhibited by the slain civil rights leader in his endeavors, “then and only then can we expect Dr. King’s vision of our brotherhood to become a reality.”
The mayor said she believed that if King had been able to speak to the luncheon crowd, he would have pointed out that although he was an orator, speech writer and activist, he was — as he often said — “first and foremost a Baptist preacher.”
She said she feels King would have related what is assumed to be the words of the apostle Paul in Hebrews 13:8 — “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow.”
After a brief pause, Hollingsworth closed, “This is our given, from the Bible. All else can be molded to be what God intended.”