Ernest G. Green was the first member of the Little Rock Nine to graduate from high school, receiving his diploma after a tumultuous year of intimidation from fellow students and members of his community.
Green and eight other African-American students integrated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision declared school segregation unconstitutional.
“It was like going to war every day,” Green told The Associated Press in 2017. “You had students who tried to use as much verbiage as they could to intimidate us. We had threats and comments that we would be killed.” President Dwight Eisenhower ordered troops from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to maintain a military presence at the school throughout the school year.
Despite the obstacles, Green and his classmates banded together.
“We decided that this was a year that we would support each other,” Green said.
Six decades after his 1958 graduation from Central High School, Green will be the featured speaker at the 38th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast on Saturday, Jan. 19, in Asheville. Doors open at 8 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Resort Expo Center, 1 Resort Drive.
Oralene Simmons, the founder of The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, remembers following the news of the integration of Central High School as it happened. “For me and my generation, it was a changing of the times,” she said. “Something that we had long hoped and dreamed of.”
During high school, Simmons was a member of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality, a group of African American students who were responsible for integrating many of the public facilities in Asheville.
The events in Little Rock, and the hope and inspiration heralded by King, motivated Simmons’ decision to return home to Mars Hill, where she became the first African American student to attend Mars Hill University.
After graduation, Green attended Michigan State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in social science and a master’s in sociology.
He eventually served as the assistant secretary of labor for employment and training under President Jimmy Carter. Several years later, President Bill Clinton appointed him chairman of the African Development Foundation.
Tickets for the Asheville breakfast are $35 for patrons, $25 for adults and $15 for ages 12 and younger. The event is sponsored by the MLK Association and will be one of several events in the region to commemorate the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr.
Thursday, Jan. 17
Spirit of MLK Awards Ceremony
Mission Health will hold the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award Ceremony at the Mission Health A-B Tech Conference Center. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. with the ceremony starting at noon. The awards are given annually to members of the Mission Health team who have been nominated by peers or leaders “for their ability to overcome barriers that separate human beings and who see diversity as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to impact change.”
Monday, Jan. 21
Unity Breakfast at Blue Ridge Community College
Pastor Eric Gash, who started Speak Life Community Church in Hendersonville and serves as the athletic director and assistant principal at Hendersonville High School, will be the keynote speaker at Blue Ridge Community College’s 19th annual Unity Breakfast. The breakfast will begin at 8:30 a.m., with a program following at 9:30 a.m., in Blue Ridge Conference Hall, East Campus Drive, Flat Rock. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-12 and are available at the Community Foundation of Henderson County at 401 N. Main St., Suite 300, Hendersonville.
Mars Hill University events
Along with many other institutions, Mars Hill University will cancel classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. At 9 a.m., students will meet to create a poster to display at Asheville’s peace march and rally before traveling by bus to participate in the march. The university will also host a screening and discussion of the documentary At the River I Stand: King’s Final Days at 11 a.m. and two discussions at 3 p.m. led by professors at the university.
Asheville rally and march
The MLK Association of Asheville and Buncombe County will hold a peace march and rally starting at 11:30 a.m. at St. James AME Church at Martin Luther King Drive and Hildebrand Street. A march to City-County Plaza will begin at noon.
At 5:30 p.m., marchers will gather at the Bethel “A” Baptist Church in Brevard in preparation for a 6 p.m. march to the Brevard College Porter Center. A program featuring Davidson River Taiko drummers and the Rise & Shine scholars will begin at 7 p.m. at the Porter Center, 1 Brevard College Drive.
Asheville candlelight service
The MLK Association will host a candlelight service at 6 p.m. at Central United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall, 27 Church St., Asheville, to honor area residents “who have dedicated themselves to the cause of social justice.”
Tuesday, Jan. 22
We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Damien Sneed, a pianist, singer and composer, will perform at the Diana Wortham Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, as part of his We Shall Overcome tour. The performance will celebrate the work of King and other civil rights activists. According to his website, Sneed has worked with performers including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Carlos Santana. The concert starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for students and $20 for children.
Wednesday, Jan. 23
Keynote address for MLK Day celebration at WCU
Aminata Cairo, a lecturer of inclusive education at the Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, will speak from 7-9 p.m. at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center as part of Western Carolina University’s week of MLK Day events. The event is free and open to the public.
Thursday, Jan. 24
Women’s March co-president addresses UNCA
Tamika Mallory, the national co-president of the Women’s March, will deliver the keynote address for UNC Asheville’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week.
In a press release, the university called Mallory’s speech the highlight of a week of UNCA-organized community service and educational workshops focused on King’s legacy.
Aside from her work in organizing the Women’s March, Mallory has been a central figure in efforts to stop gun violence in America, which killed her son’s father in 2001. She served as the co-chair of the NYC Crisis Management System, a gun violence prevention program, and worked with President Barack Obama’s administration on gun control policy.
Mallory also has been a recent subject of national controversy, which as boiled over to the local level in advance of her appearance in Asheville. University officials have said they plan to proceed with Mallory’s lecture but are adding opportunities for community members to discuss their concerns. For more information, see “Letter: Respect King’s legacy and boycott UNCA speaker.”
Mallory will deliver her keynote address at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, in UNC Asheville’s Lipinksy Auditorium. Doors will open at 6 p.m.