Originally created 01/17/04

More than a dream



A day after President Bush was booed in Atlanta while visiting the grave of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist used his speech at a King celebration to attack the president's stance on college admissions policies and the Iraq war.

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, considered the "dean of the civil rights movement," spoke Friday during the tri-college Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Paine College. He used a 40-minute speech to honor Dr. King's legacy and criticize Mr. Bush.

A year ago, the president launched an assault on college admissions policies, the Rev. Lowery said, referring to Mr. Bush's court challenge of the use of race in admitting students.

"You can't help but wonder, did he get converted in that year? I'm just raising the question," he said.

The 82-year-old minister accused the White House of attacking Iraq unilaterally and squandering an opportunity after Sept. 11, 2001, to unite the world against terrorism. He recalled the tens of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. soldiers who have died.

"Such a terrible loss of life for nothing. We forgot about al-Qaida," the Rev. Lowery said. "I'm afraid that sending smart bombs on dumb missions may have created more terrorists."

The Rev. Lowery frequently referred to Dr. King as "Martin." The two were friends and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During his tenure as SCLC president, the Rev. Lowery led campaigns against the Ku Klux Klan, fought police brutality and led a pilgrimage through five states to fight for the strengthening of the Voting Rights Act.

Friday's message by the Rev. Lowery highlighted a 90-minute program punctuated by trumpet solos and choir performances. A medley of spirituals by the Paine College Concert Choir included a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace that brought the crowd of 800 to its feet.

Singing groups from Augusta State University and the Medical College of Georgia also performed. All three colleges unite each year for the celebration.

Inside Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel, the Rev. Lowery showed why Ebony magazine named him one of the nation's 15 greatest preachers. He used humor to keep the audience interested. At one point, he apologized for laughing: "Sometimes I get happy at my own preaching."

He said he wanted to open hearts and minds about "the real Martin."

"We get fed a standard dose of the dreamer. Some young people think he only slept and dreamed. We miss the radical, nonviolent revolutionary," he said.

The holiday named for Dr. King honors a man, a movement and a mission. Dr. King gave hope to the hopeless, the Rev. Lowery said, pointing to the ceiling and proclaiming, "You da man, Martin."

Looking at young people in the chapel, the minister urged them to understand what Dr. King and other civil rights leaders went through to get voting rights and other liberties.

"Nobody brought this to you on a silver platter. It came after a struggle," he said.

The congregation - filled with black and white faces - was challenged to use the ballot box and money to create change.

"If my son can't be a manager there, I'm not going to spend a dime," he said.

Paine College freshman Kinnetta Hamilton said she was inspired by the Rev. Lowery's message.

"That's something I'm going to take with me, something that will keep me going," she said.

Augusta resident Chadwick Brigham said he took the minister's message to mean that Democrats and Republicans should work together to solve problems.

"It kind of puts you back in focus on what we should be doing in this country," he said.

"We get fed a standard dose of the dreamer. Some young people think he only slept and dreamed. We miss the radical, nonviolent revolutionary." - Rev. Joseph E. Lowry, about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.