Members from local organizations in NW Huntsville walked-out during mayor’s unity award acceptance. Protestors picketed outside the VBC, North Hall.
Compiled by Speakin’ Out News; SON photo credits by Shelly Williams
HUNTSVILLE, AL – – On Monday, January 21, 2019, the Delta Theta Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. hosted its 34th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast at the North Hall VBC. The community celebrated the life and legacy of the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event was a sell-out with over 1,500 people in attendance. The breakfast is sponsored by the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Immediate Past President, Robert Drake, said the Huntsville community has always been supportive of the event since 1986. The fraternity will donate proceeds from the breakfast toward their scholarship fund and mentoring program.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and No More Dirty Radio & TV founder, Frederick K. Whitlow, II were this year’s recipients of the 2019 Humanitarian Unity Award. This award is given to local individuals who have exemplified and embodied the spirit of Dr. King’s work, “Service to the Community”.
Although the award was given by the oldest black Greek organization in the community, some Northwest community leaders and pastors disapproved of Mayor Tommy Battle being selected for this extinguished award.
The North Huntsville Community United for Action (NHCUA) and the Greater Huntsville Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship (GHIMF), released a news release encouraging residents of North Huntsville community to protest and walk-out of the MLK breakfast, when the Mayor Battle accepts the Martin Luther King, Jr. award.
The two organizations, which consist of both community leaders and pastors, released in a statement, “The mayor has not shown any of the high character qualities of Dr. King. Just the opposite is the case. The mayor has demonstrated the highest level of disdain for our community, disrespect for those elected officials who represent us, and has not done anything for our community worthy of being so honored.”
Speakin’ Out News, senior reporter Phyllis Jones, spoked with Bro. Robert Drake, Immediate Past President Delta Theta Lambda Chapter Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. about the award selection process. Mr. Drake stated, “The MLK Unity Award recipients are recommended to the Delta Theta Lambda Chapter Education Foundation each year. The nominees are evaluated by a committee which consists of community leaders, activists and service individuals. This year there were two previous MLK Unity Award winners on the committee. Each nominee is evaluated based on a list of criteria and is awarded a specific number of points based on their ranking of each. After the evaluations were completed and point totals were tallied, Mr. Frederick Whitlow and Mayor Tommy Battle were the winners. This is the process that we’ve used since the inception of the MLK Unity Breakfast, and the MLK Unit Award.”
Eddgra Fallin spoke to WAAY31-TV, “It makes me feel terrible.” Eddgra Fallin is the daughter of the late Edwin Silsby Hill, former executive director of the Madison/Morgan Co. Community Action Agency, who was recipient of the MLK award in 1993. Mrs. Fallin continued, “There’s no comparison. I just don’t think that Mayor Battle should get this award.”
One of the outside protestors, business entrepreneur Michael Jennings said, “The MLK humanitarian award is supposed to be given to an individual who embodies the precepts, examples and characteristics promoted and exhibited by Dr. Martin Luther King. Our Mayor has failed to provide the leadership and characteristics to warrant such a prestigious award. Although, he has had ample opportunities to do so. In my opinion, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity has done the Huntsville community of black and white citizens who have died and shed blood in the fight for Civil Rights a grave disservice by awarding the Mayor, Tommy Battle, the MLK Humanitarian award.”
Mr. Jennings continued, “We should never forget that the opportunities and blessing that we enjoy today came at a high price of human sacrifice. I for one, will never forget. I know that the ability to vote, protest, live in any community, go into any public facility, and find employment in many companies and many other benefits, came at the cost of many lives, public humiliation and denial of civil rights for many. The Huntsville community deserves better and I’m hopeful that out of the ashes of this award will arise another community organization that will have a MLK breakfast that is a truly unifying force in this city that will award recipients of the MLK Humanitarian and Unity awards based on a criteria that is in line with what Martin Luther King stood for.”
On the contrary, some viewed the protest and walk-out disrespectful and a way to distract the real purpose of Dr. King which was unity and brotherhood.
According to WAAY31-TV, the news media reported on the web: “There was no walkout Monday when Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle was presented with the Unity Award at the 34th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast. Instead, he received quite the opposite reaction. People applauded the mayor as he received the award in the Von Braun Center as part of the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast. Nobody stood up and left when the mayor got the award.”
On Facebook, Robert Drake posted: “Thank you Huntsville and Madison County for your support of the 34th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast! The threat of disruption of an event that promotes unity and cohesiveness fell flat, and the audience was once again pleased and inspired!”