Martin Luther King III coming to Norristown for monument rededication

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. open air theater is part of Simmons Park in Norristown and is in need of some extensive repairs. (Photo by John Berry/Times Herald)

NORRISTOWN - Twenty-five years after the groundbreaking for the Martin Luther King Jr. monument at Simmons Park, a bronze plaque will be the centerpiece of a rededication ceremony that will surely feel like a grand homecoming for many of its creators and movers.

At the invitation of leading initiator Robert Wright, Martin Luther King III will grace the ceremony with his first ever appearance in Norristown on June 16 as he honors his father's dreams of social and economic equity.

Joining him will be masters of ceremonies the Rev. Dr. Mickarl D. Thomas Sr. and the Rev. Jeffrey N. Leath, both of whom are former pastors of Mount Zion AME Church in Norristown.

'Both of these men were instrumental in getting the King memorial built and I'm happy they will be here to help us celebrate the day,' Wright said. 'Dr. Thomas was instrumental in getting the Rev. Ralph Abernathy to town and Jeff was one of the original committee members who helped us get the monument built. I'm very proud of both of them and the service they've done over the years. Mount Zion Church has been a center point for a lot of civil rights work in the Norristown community over the years.'

Wright allowed that work to complete the monument was donated by Laborers Local Union 135, 'so it didn't cost the borough any money.'

Norris Sales in Plymouth donated equipment used during construction, he added.

The new bronze sculptured base relief of Martin Luther King Jr. will stand as the crowning architectural enhancement on the site. The sculpting is to be encased in a permanent masonry column, with plans to add lush greenery as 'enrichments that will bring about further appreciation of the accomplishments of Dr. King,' Wright said. 'Mr. King will dedicate the new sculpture and the entire park. Twenty-five years ago we had the distinct honor in dedicating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Norristown. It is the only such memorial in Pennsylvania.'

Consisting of an amphitheater with five columns, seating, lighting, benches, magnolia trees, a play area for children, gazebo and water fountain spray, the park has been a work in progress since roughly 400 people witnessed the groundbreaking in January 1987, where Abernathy's presence loomed large over the proceedings.

Sadly, Abernathy passed away at age 64 in 1990. At the original ceremony - which was emceed by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Horace Davenport - Abernathy reminded the crowd that there were no black people on Norristown Council.

He said he didn't blame then mayor John 'Barney' Marberger for that.

'I blame you, you and you,' Abernathy said, pointing to random individuals in the crowd.

He criticized the Montgomery County Commissioners for filling their positions with 'beautiful women and able young men' and called on them to restructure.

'Blacks need to have representation and I'm planning to come back to Montgomery County and do something about this situation,' Abernathy said. 'This is one of the richest counties in the country and we have no black leaders to represent us.'

Abernathy described Martin Luther King, with whom he shared a longtime friendship, as a man who 'wore a coat of many colors who went around dreaming strange dreams.'

But King's dream was ultimately nothing more than an 'American Dream,' he pointed out.

'We're still working on Dr. King's dream to make it a reality in all ways,' Wright had said earlier.

'Now there are four African Americans on Norristown council. So things have changed. I think if Dr. Abernathy was alive today he'd be pleased with the monument he helped create and pleased with the work that Norristown Borough has done as far as making Simmons Park a peaceful facility, which is second to none.'

The ceremony will be followed by a banquet at Presidential Caterers in East Norriton.

Information from the Times Herald, www.timesherald.com

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