The Dream Continues…Highlights of the 2020 Unity Breakfast


The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr resonates powerfully through the years. It transformed the essence of our world and challenges each of us to evaluate others “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” as King so eloquently stated in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Rocky Mount is gearing up for its 32nd annual Unity Breakfast and other January events that highlight the message of equality of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The theme for this year’s events is “Shared Humanity—Equal Opportunity.”

Oratorical Contest

On January 11, the 32nd annual MLK Oratorical Competition was held. Students in sixth through eighth grades spoke on the theme of “My Vision 2040,” while contestants in ninth through twelfth grades presented speeches centered on the theme “Shared Humanity—Equal Opportunity.”

The MLK Unity Breakfast

The Unity Breakfast will be January 20, starting at 7 a.m. at North Carolina Wesleyan College’s Dunn Center for the Performing Arts. NC Wesleyan College serves as an event partner for the breakfast and program. Anita Earls will serve as the keynote speaker.

Anita Earls: An Advocate for Justice

Earls is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and was a founder of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where she served as executive director for 10 years. She has litigated several civil rights and voting rights cases.

In her distinguished career, she has served as the deputy assistant general for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Clinton administration. In addition, she also served on the N.C. Board of Elections and the Equal Access to Justice Commission.

A graduate of Williams College, she earned her degree from Yale Law School and has taught at Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland. 

Earls will speak during the 8 a.m. program which follows the 7 a.m. breakfast. 

A Day of Service

Perhaps one of the best examples of the principles of the Unity Breakfast is the annual Day of Service projects. Anyone who is interested in participating in these should call 252-454-1682. 

All events are free and open to the public.

If you want more information about the breakfast or other projects, please contact the Human Relations Department of the city at 252-972-1181.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Rocky Mount Connection

While millions of Americans heard the “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time at the historic civil rights march in Washington, D.C., some Rocky Mount audiences had a sneak preview. Historians have proved that it was at a speaking event in Rocky Mount when Dr. King first used the phrase “I have a dream.”

The event was at the Booker T. Washington High School before a group of 1,800 people. There, on November 27, 1962, he spoke about the importance of race relations and civil rights. He then uttered the phrase that is forever etched into the hallowed pages of history. 

If you’re driving along Atlantic Avenue at Spruce Street in Rocky Mount, you’ll see a historic highway marker that commemorates the event. 

Historians have unearthed an original recording of the event that had been in storage for more than 50 years, stashed away in an attic, which may have been the reason it survived the flooding of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The recording was taken by someone who was sitting in the front row when the historic speech was made many years ago. 

According to an article in Our State Magazine, W. Jason Miller, an English professor at N.C. State, came across the transcript of the speech while researching the influence of the African-American poet Langston Hughes on King.  It was through Traci Thompson, a research librarian in Rocky Mount, that he heard about the recording. 

The challenge was that the tape had deteriorated, and it took careful and painstaking restoration to enable the audio track to be understood. Roughly 51 minutes into the speech, King clearly states:

 And so, my friends in Rocky Mount, I have a dream tonight. 

Rocky Mount – A Place to Dream and Grow

Rocky Mount has a rich African-American history. From hometown heroes such as Thelonious Monk and Herman Boone to the everyday citizens who strive to make our community better, Rocky Mount has proven itself as a leader in Eastern North Carolina.

If you’d like more information about events and activities that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., you can discover more through the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission.

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