A brief history of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville & 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 we have brought elected and appointed officials, major civil rights figures, journalists, and other leaders and opinion-makers to address our community.
Keynote speakers in recent years have included Civil Rights movement leaders Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ms. Dorothy Cotton; 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 affair at the city-run Montford Community Center in 1982. Mrs. Oralene Simmons, working for the Asheville Parks & Recreation Department, was director of the Center, and she invited 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?” and was quickly at work in the kitchen preparing breakfasts to serve the unexpected dozens of people who turned up.
Within a few years the breakfast grew to fill the Asheville Civic Center’s seats, where it 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.
Also at the end of 2000 the organizers established the MLK Association as a private, nonprofit organization in the state of North Carolina. Its board of directors appoints celebration committees each year to plan and organize the Prayer Breakfast, Youth Celebration, Candlelight Service, and Peace March & Rally.
Asheville celebrates Dr. King’s birthday on the Saturday before the official King holiday with our breakfast, which since 2015 has been held at the Crowne Plaza Resort, seating more than 1,100 people plus a choir of approximately 50 voices. We hold a Peace March & Rally on Monday, the official King holiday, and that evening we celebrate Dr. King’s life with a Candlelight Service honoring individuals or community organizations that embody his ideas. And in April we will present MLK Youth Awards at a special youth event at UNC Asheville.
The MLK Association of Asheville &
Buncombe County, Inc.
PO Box 328
Asheville, NC 28802-0328
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