A brief history of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County (the Association) sponsors one of the most successful and admired Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration events in the southeast (second only to Atlanta’s dinner in number of attendees). Since 1982, the Association has brought elected and appointed officials, major civil rights figures, journalists, and other leaders and opinion-makers to address the “Beloved” Asheville community.
Keynote speakers in recent years have included Civil Rights Movement leaders Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Ms. Dorothy Cotton, and Ernest Green; journalists and commentators Donna Brazile, Juan Williams, Michel Martin, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, and Leonard Pitts, Jr.; and such public officials as Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm, Adam Clayton Powell, IV, and Dr. Mary Frances Berry.
The first breakfast was a small event held at the Montford Community Center in 1982. Mrs. Oralene Anderson Graves Simmons, Director of the Montford Community Center at the time, worked for the Asheville Parks & Recreation Department. She seized the opportunity to invite friends, colleagues, and the public to attend a breakfast in honor of Dr. King. Her close friend Phyllis Sherrill arrived early that morning and asked, “What can I do to help?” Mrs. Sherrill was quickly at work in the kitchen preparing breakfasts to serve the unexpected dozens of people who turned up.
Within a few years, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast attendance outgrew the Montford Community Center and quickly reached capacity at the Asheville Civic Center. The Breakfast attracted close to 2,000 people annually for more than a dozen years. But after being forced to share space with a seasonal ice skating rink, which cut available seats by half, and facing the enviable problem of having more attendees than seats available, in 2000 the committee, still under the auspices of Asheville’s Parks Department, moved the Breakfast to the historic Grove Park Inn & Resort, where it stayed through 2014. Since then, the event has taken place at the Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts Asheville.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County was officially established as a private, nonprofit organization in the state of North Carolina, in 2003. Its board of directors appoints celebration committees each year to plan and organize the Prayer Breakfast, Youth Celebration, Candlelight Service, and Peace March & Rally.
The work of the Association has been expanded beyond its annual Prayer Breakfast, Youth Celebration (Scholarship Awards), and Candlelight Service (Community Service Awards), and Peace March & Rally to include year-round programming through its Community Outreach Providing Empowerment (COPE) Initiative. The COPE Initiative focuses on empowering residents living in Asheville and Buncombe County through educational outreach, workshops, seminars, and special events.
In 2018, the Association’s Board, in conjunction with local organizations, formed the Buncombe Community Remembrance Project, as part of the Equal Justice Initiative to recognize individuals “of record” lynched in Buncombe County after the Civil War. The Association continues to promote the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through its social, racial, and equity outreach programs.
The MLK Association of Asheville &
Buncombe County, Inc.
PO Box 328
Asheville, NC 28802-0328
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