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Sharing in the soul with Martin Luther King Jr.
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Sharing in the soul with Martin Luther King Jr.

GARY — Most people will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday by focusing on the powerful words and achievements of the late, great civil rights leader.

But a local gathering Sunday took a unique and more personal approach to honoring King by recreating a meal made up of his favorite foods.

The dinner was the creation of Junifer Hall, whose mother, the late U.S. Congresswoman Katie Hall, sponsored the legislation that resulted in the creation of the federal holiday honoring King.

Hall said she came up with the idea while sharing a meal with one of King's daughters, Bernice King, during a visit to the Region last year.

"We were discussing with her what types of food her dad liked to eat in his lifetime," Hall said.

The answer was good old fashioned soul food, including fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens and homemade cornbread.

Those favorites made up Sunday's menu at Mama Pearl's BBQ Restaurant, 411 E. 5th Ave., and attracted paying diners such as Gary resident Dorothy Curtis.

"We always celebrate with food," she said. "At home we always sat around the table and ate."

A video of King's speeches played in the background during Sunday's meal and each visitor received a post card of the 1983 photograph of President Ronald Reagan signing the legislation creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with several people looking on, including Katie Hall. The holiday was first celebrated in 1986.

Curtis said at the time King was organizing nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama and delivering his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 march in Washington, D.C., she was confronting a lot of racism after the Fair Share Organization helped her secure a job at the local U.S. Steel plant.

"When I was growing up, we couldn't find a job," said the 73-year-old.

Her sister-in-law Daisy Curtis, also of Gary, said she was in Germany with her husband, who was in the military, when she received word that King had been assassinated on April 4, 1968.

"It was shocking," she said.

The 71-year-old said that despite progress made elsewhere, the economic conditions have not improved in Gary.

"Our kids leave when they graduate from college," she said. "If you're not politically connected, you can't get a job."

Gary resident Earmon Irons, 78, who was picking up food to go, said he liked the idea of honoring King by sharing in his favorite dishes.

He referred to King's message as a clarion call that resonates as truthfully today as it did during his lifetime.

"When we talk of standing on the shoulders of people, his shoulders are involved in that," Irons said.

He said as divisions of various sorts ravage the country, King's message offers words of guidance and hope.

"To me, in that vast space of life, of humanity as a whole, we need to seek those things that are common among us rather than the few things that divide us," Irons said.

Gary City Councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt, who moved to the city 24 years ago and holds out hope for its revival, took part in Sunday's meal.

"I think it's a clever idea to have Dr. King's favorite meal," she said.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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