Top of the Morning, Jan. 20, 2014: From the archives

Top of the Morning, Jan. 20, 2014: From the archives

If you're going to commemorate a man who was a great orator, you're going to want to bring in some first-class speakers.

Since its inception in 2002, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration has done just that.

Some examples:

"All preachers preach 'Yeah, but, yeah, but.' I don't preach buts. You must love at all costs. People say, 'Bevel, why don't you use a weapon, defend yourself.' Because I don't intend to lose wars. I can afford to be killed. I can't afford to stand before the altar with blood on my hands."

— The first keynote speaker, the Rev. James Bevel, a member of King's executive staff, a Freedom Rider and the inspiration for the 1963 march on Washington.

"It's hard to imagine that the powerful in our society would tolerate the burgeoning prison-industrial complex in this country if they imagined that the black and Latino men filling those jails are just like their sons. It's hard to imagine we would tolerate schools that don't teach, that are chronically underfunded and understaffed and underinspired if we thought that those children could learn just like our children. It's hard to imagine we would accept senior citizens having to choose between paying their rent and paying for their prescription drugs if we thought that those senior citizens were just like our parents or our grandparents."

— Then-state Sen. Barack Obama, in 2004.

"We cannot all be president, but we all can be agents of change. An agent of change is a singular individual with a dream of a better tomorrow."

In 2013, Ernest Green, the first black student to graduate from Little Rock High School, spoke.

"In case you don't recognize the future, here I stand. We want to seize the dream and put it into action."

— Kristopher Coombs Jr., age 13, at the first celebration in 2002.

From the archives: A selection of photos from the countywide event over the years, as well as video of Obama's 2004 speech, are at news-gazette.com. Also online: thoughts from Kris Coombs Jr., who, 12 years later, has earned two master's degrees and plans to tackle law school next, but at the moment is teaching English in Santiago, Chile.

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