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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


Facility honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., welco

Mayor Riley

Mayor Joseph P. Riley, the City of Charleston’s longest-serving mayor, was on hand to give remarks and join in the festivities.

By Meredith Thomas
Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s Diversity Committee held a special ceremony January 14 to honor the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mayor Joseph P. Riley, the City of Charleston’s longest-serving mayor, was on hand to give remarks and join in the festivities.

“As we remember the life of Dr. King and the legacy of equality for all he left each of us to carry on, it is only fitting that we welcome another great leader who shares those same ideals today,” said Scott Isaacks, Charleston VAMC director, as he introduced the mayor.

Mayor Riley has long been a supporter of equal rights.  As a young legislator in the racially-polarized climate of the late 1960s, he introduced the first bill in South Carolina to establish a day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time, this bill was extremely controversial and did not gain much traction. Riley, however, pushed forward, eventually succeeding in making Charleston the first city in South Carolina to set aside a day to celebrate King’s memory.

Today, the mayor is careful to dedicate his time to those endeavors he believes King would support if he were around to do so.

“January 19 is a day for us to observe, honor and celebrate Dr. King and the impact he had on the people of this nation. But we also want to take something from it,” Riley said. “We can ask ourselves, ‘If Dr. King were alive today, what would he be doing?’”

To Riley, the answer is simple. He supports efforts to improve the quality of public education for those children who are disadvantaged and come from a lower socio-economic status. He is also passionately involved in the planning of a new International African American Museum, which will be built in Charleston on the site of Gadsden’s Wharf – the nation’s largest wharf during the time of the slave trade and a place that, during the last three years of slavery, was port to almost 70% of all enslaved African Americans brought to the U.S.

The mayor believes the museum will focus attention on the African American community and help us to better know and understand the history they helped shape. The museum, he says, will tell a “story of courage, perseverance and the fortitude of the human spirit.”

The memorial observance held at the Charleston VAMC ended with a viewing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963. In the speech, King implores his fellow protestors to peacefully find a way toward equality.

An idea, Riley believes, is one of King’s lasting legacies.

“He knew the way to succeed was not to be violent – not to hit back,” Riley said. “We all need to contemplate the wisdom and discipline in that stance.”


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