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Civil rights attorney Avery Friedman said he did not want to be an "ungracious guest" in coming to Salt Lake City to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. on the day honoring the man who led the nonviolent movement against U.S. segregation.
But Friedman noted that in 2000 Utah became the last state in the nation to pass legislation honoring King by name. And, in 2010, the Legislature considered honoring gun manufacturer John Browning on the same day set aside to celebrate the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
On Monday, Friedman spoke to nearly 400 people during the 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial luncheon, sponsored by the NAACP Salt Lake Branch at Little America Hotel.
Friedman, a legal analyst at CNN, asked if Utah lawmakers knew that police found a Browning rifle box near a motel room in Memphis, Tenn., where King had been assassinated nearly 44 years ago.
"What's the matter with you people?" Friedman asked of Utah's role in recognizing the murdered King.
Although the bill honoring Browning was withdrawn, the Legislature recognized the Utah gun-maker last year by declaring the .45-caliber Browning pistol the official state gun the first state in the nation to do so.
Friedman said King's last speech foreshadowed his own death, delivered the day before he was shot down on April 4, 1968.
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place," King said. "But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
Friedman noted that when King visited Salt Lake City in 1961, his flight from Denver had been delayed, due to a bomb threat.
King also was late in arriving in Memphis, shortly before his assassination, again because of a bomb threat, this time when King flew from Atlanta.
Friedman himself had joined a demonstration in the 1960s when he was 18 years old and was clubbed by a highway patrol trooper in a beating that prompted the young activist to become a lawyer.
He became part of anti-Klan prosecutions as special counsel to the Texas Commission on Human Rights. Friedman currently serves as a visiting professor in constitutional law at Ursuline College in Ohio.
During the luncheon, two Utahns were honored for their work:
• Third District Judge Tyrone Medley received the Civil Rights Award.
Medley moved to Utah in 1970 on a basketball scholarship at the University of Utah and graduated with a law degree from the U. in 1977. As a member of the Utah Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System, Medley wrote: "We all should have zero tolerance for race or ethnic unfairness, whether born from intentional misconduct or cultural ignorance."
• Gloria Wilkinson received the Rosa Parks Award, named for the woman who in 1955 refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, igniting a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.
Wilkinson is vice president of community relations at Zions Bank, responsible for corporate donations and sponsorships. She also is a board member of the U. Hospital Foundation and the American Red Cross of Utah.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Utah
1983 • President Ronald Reagan signs a bill into law creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
1986 • Utah Legislature passes a bill commemorating Human Rights Day.
2000 • Then-Gov. Mike Leavitt signs a bill changing Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
2007 • Legislature backs delaying the start of the legislative session until the fourth Monday in January, after MLK Day.
2008 • 70 percent of Utah voters approve moving legislative session from third Monday in January to fourth Monday.
2010 • Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, withdraws a bill that would have honored gun-maker John Browning on MLK Day.
2011 • Gov. Gary Herbert signs a bill declaring the .45-caliber Browning handgun official state firearm; the first in the country.