The History of The Martin Luther King, Jr. DC Support Group, Inc.
By Dr. Helen V. Tate/Founder
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a world-renowned leader who was instrumental in setting the world on a course of demanding that all citizens enjoy their basic human rights and privileges. His work was especially dedicated to the hope that all African-Americans would one day enjoy all privileges of citizenship. Dr. King’s teachings and practice of change through non-violent means traveled across the continent and throughout the world. In 1968, the country was left to weep in same when Dr. King was assassinated. Groups all across America and around the world were so moved by his life and untimely violent death that they organized to preserve and continue his legacy of non-violence and full civil and human rights for all. This planted the seed that would lead to the formation of such entities as the Martin Luther King, Jr. DC Support Group.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. DC Support Group, Inc. was formed in 1972 under the name of “the Committee to Commemorate the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The idea to start the organization was conceived by Dr. Helen V. Tate. The idea was shared with the General Baptist Deacons Association and it’s Women’s Auxiliary. Deacon John R. Henson, who served as the association’s president at the time, named Dr. Tate as chairperson and Mrs. Dorothy M. Nicholas as Co-Chairperson. The 1st Commemoration Service was held on January 15, 1973 at the First Baptist Church (712 Randolph
Street, N.W. in Washington, DC) where Reverend J. Terry Wingate was the guest speaker. In 1974, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church (1528 M Street, N.W. in Washington, DC) hosted the Commemoration Service. The speaker was Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Commissioner of the FCC.
On October, 1975, the board of Directors of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non- Violence & Social Change adopted a resolution recognizing The DC Support Group0 as the official support group for the King Center in the Washington, DC area. It has continued to hold that distinction for the past 35 years. The name of the organization was changed in 1984, shortly after the President of the United States signed into law the legislation that made Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday, beginning in 1986. Mr. Joe Carter, a stalwart member made significant contributions. Mr. Ronald Jessamy, Esq. was named chairman of the Board of Directors in the early 80’s and has been very supportive of every effort of the group.
During the early stages of The DC Support Group’s existence, it held a weeklong series of events along the lines of what was planned and held by the King Center in Atlanta. The events consisted of programs such as interfaith services, workshops focusing on world peace and nonviolence and activities in recognition of the Labor movement’s contribution to civil rights. Today, The DC Support Group continues to observe Dr. King’s Birthday by planning, conducting and participating in interfaith services throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area. In addition, the group operates as a non-profit corporation under the laws of the District of Columbia. The DC Support Group continues its support role with the King Center by holding an annual benefit luncheon on Dr. King’s birthday, awarding three scholarships annually and sponsoring a prayer breakfast every April in observance of Dr. King’s assassination.
The DC Support Group has enjoyed the active support of many political, religious and social leaders in the Washington, DC area. Significant support was provided y the late Walter E. Washington, former Mayor of Washington, DC. The group has also been supported by former DC Mayor Marion Barry, Jr. former DC Congressional Representative, Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, former Council Chair Sterling Tucker, former DC Councilman Rev. Jerry A. Moore, Jr. and the late DC Council Chair, David A. Clarke, to name a few.
Mr. Phil Feaster, former President of Teamsters Local 639 joined the support group effort in the early 80’s and enhanced our fundraising efforts significantly. Mr. Thomas Ratliff, current President continues to support and make significant contributions.
Some of the highlights of the DC Support Group activities include but not limited to the following:
- Organized a motorcade from the Martin Luther King, Jr. DC Public Library to First Baptist Church, site of the first commendation.
- Mobilized 4,000 people in 1975 to attend the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Rev. Dr. Walter E. Fauntroy was the speaker.
- In 1976 throngs joined in their celebration at the Washington Cathedral, Rev. Dr. Harold Carter, Sr., of Baltimore, Maryland was the speaker.
- In January 1988 a special Time Capsule was embedded for 100 years at DC Freedom Plaza, (14th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW). The Time Capsule contains historical items highlighting the life and work of Dr. King, Jr.
- Assisted in lobbying Congress for the passage of legislation to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.
- Helped to recruit volunteers and supporters to rally with Stevie Wonder at an event held in Washington, DC in support of legislation to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.
- Planned and produced King Week in the District of Columbia modeled on the King Center’s observance in Atlanta.
- Annual breakfast each April 4th. Proceeds are given back to the community.
- Developed a humanitarian service award that is bestowed annually on observing individuals for their humanitarian efforts in the Washington Metropolitan area.
- Attended Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s funeral.
- Attended the Dedication on the site for the Washington DC National Memorial Project for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Thousands of dollars have been raised for annual youth scholarships and financial support for the King Center for Non-Violence & Social Change, Inc.
- Dr Helen V. Tate served as president for 33 years; (1972-2005)
- Deacon Ivory Roberts of New Bethel Baptist Church served a president for one year; (2005-2006)
- Rev. John S. Barckley, of New Bethel Church of God in Christ, serves as president. (2006-2007) Rev. Barckley served as accountant for Mrs. Coretta Scott King with Federal Holiday Commission for Dr. King’s Birthday. Served as Treasurer for DC Support Group for many years.
- Beverly Harrison Griggs currently serves as President. (2007-Present): Deaconess Griggs is the Treasurer of New Bethel Baptist Church. President Griggs is active in a wide range of civic and community organization. She was in Who’s Who Washington 2009.