NAACP honors King, lauds Obama's rise as product of civil-rights movement
Honors » Lawmakers were recognized for changing Legislature's start date.
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Yes, it was Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday, but the slain civil-rights leader shared the stage at Monday's NAACP luncheon with another black American: Barack Obama.

And King likely wouldn't have minded.

"We feel a sense of accomplishment that this dream has been realized," said Corey Hodges, pastor of the New Pilgrim Baptist Church, during his invocation.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pointed to Obama's rise to the presidency as the product of civil-rights seeds sown by leaders such as King, Rosa Parks and the NAACP.

"The fruits of our work, our civil-rights movement, can be seen throughout the country," she said. "It will reflect the work of the NAACP when President Barack Obama swears in on the Bible of Lincoln."

King was hardly forgotten at the annual luncheon held in his honor. The event drew about 200 people to Little America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

For Salt Lake City resident Orville Meade -- whose daughter, Quinci Hambrick, received a $2,000 scholarship -- the day was "historic."

"It's hard to find words to describe being part of something many of these young kids don't know anything about," Meade said. "It's tremendous to see blacks, whites, Hispanics, Jews and all people stand shoulder to shoulder. This is what life is supposed to be like: people of all colors, races, creeds and classes coming together."

Bobbie Kirby of Salt Lake City looked at the day as a time to reflect.

"We're still continuing to make strides forward. We continue to climb up this road," she said. "This is not a regular day but a day of celebration. We don't take the time off to go shopping, but it's a day for us to remember how far we've come and how far we have to go."

The importance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday prompted Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, to run a bill that led to bumping back the usual start of the Legislature.

"I realized that for this portion of our community, it was important the Legislature didn't start on this date," the former Senate president said. "It was so important that I took it up as a cause, not knowing if I'd be successful or fall flat on my face."

The bill cleared the House and Senate unanimously, and voters overwhelmingly signed off on the constitutional amendment approving the move.

Valentine, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and former House Speaker Greg Curtis of Sandy were honored for their work to change the session start.

"Today will be the first time the Legislature does not meet on this day," said Edward Lewis Jr., president of the NAACP Tri-State Conference, which includes Utah, Idaho and Nevada. "We now have a more appropriate celebration of the holiday."

The Legislature will begin Monday.

smcfarland@sltrib.com