On Saturday, April 4, 2009, the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The King Center, in partnership with Atlanta Gas Light and support from The Gandhi Foundation of USA (GFUSA) and the MLK National Historic Site, hosted a Wreath-Laying Ceremony and Eternal Flame Lighting at The King Center located at the historic Auburn Ave.
The National Historic Site is embellished with phenomenal history as it houses the Crypts of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King; the Birth Home of Dr. King; The Gandhi Room full of memorabilia and belongings of Mahatma Gandhi in the Freedom Hall ; and a majestic full size bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi sculpted by Ram Sutar of India which has become an icon for millions of tourists thronging the Historic Site annually.
The formal program began at 11:00 a.m. with a silent Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the grave-site of Dr. and Mrs. King, including Mr. Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., president and chief executive officer of The King Center and King Center Board member Dr. King’s daughter, Elder Bernice A. King, founder and president of Be A King Enterprises, LLC
Following the wreath-laying, there was a ceremonial lighting of the newly-refurbished Eternal Flame, which symbolizes Dr. King’s living legacy and the enduring truth of his great dream of the Beloved Community. Mr. Farris, Atlanta Gas Light President Susan Sitherwood, City Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2) and Martin Luther King III, president and chief executive officer of Realizing the Dream brought remarks, with an invocation and blessing of the Flame by Elder King, followed by a musical selection by the Voices of Grace Choir, Grace United Methodist Church.
Isaac Farris, who presided the Ann iversary, recognized all the dignitaries present, partners for this event and thanked the sponsor Atlanta Gas Light for the refurbishing of the Eternal Flame at the King Center .
Mr. Farris introduced Chief Justice Balakrishnan as “the highest-ranking legal officer of the world’s largest democracy.” He acknowledged the members of the Gandhi Foundation U.S.A. and representatives of the Atlanta Indian community as “the King Center’s long time partners,” and said “your friendship and support over the years has been a great blessing, and the solidarity we share in our mutual reverence for the teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. has been an inspiration to me, personally and to The King Center.”
Martin Luther King III, oldest son and namesake of America’s greatest proponent of Gandhian nonviolence, warmly recalled his recent visit to India along with a Congressional delegation, in February 2009, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the visit of late Dr. and Mrs. King to India in 1959, where he met with Chief Justice Balakrishnan. Mr. King told the gathering “Having recently returned from India, I now have a stronger appreciation of the phenomenal dedication that is required to administer the world’s largest democracy…Today we are deeply honored by the presence of India’s highest ranking justices. And I would just add that another Indian attorney, one of the greatest leaders of human history, Mohandas K. Gandhi, is also honored in this historic site with a statue and an exhibit room, because he so profoundly inspired my father and influenced our freedom struggle.”
Mr. King and his family then lit the Eternal Flame. Under the supervision of The King Center, the Eternal Flame has been refurbished by the Atlanta Gas Light Company to enhance it’s size, visual appeal and safety, with a more prominent flame atop a cauldron, surrounded by a small garden on a large, circular brick and cement pedestal.
The Honorable Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Chief Justice of India , leading a visiting delegation of many prominent members from India , delivered the closing remarks. Prior to his remarks and in keeping with the warm traditions of India, he presented bouquets of flowers to the members of the King Family, Martin Luther King, III, Bernice King and Isaac Farris .
Hon. Balakrishnan paid rich tributes to late Dr. King and highlighted the similarities in the Civil Disobedience Movements led by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King, in India and USA, respectively. He stressed that the universal values preached and practiced by the two great leaders have immense relevance for future generations.
Earlier at 10 am, the Indian delegation paid floral tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at the Gandhi Statue at a solemn function organized by GFUSA on a beautiful and pleasant Spring morning.
The delegation included: Hon. K.G. Balakrishnan; Chief Justice of India; Mrs. Nirmala Balakrishnan; Hon. Dr. Arijit Pasayat, Judge, Supreme Court of India; Mrs. Subala Pasayat; Mr. T.K. Viswanathan, Law Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice; Dr. S.K. Thorat, Chairman, University Grants Commission (UGC), Govt. of India; Mr. Sunil Kumar, IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education, Govt. of India; Dr. S. Sivakumar, Officiating Director, Indian Law Institute, New Delhi; Mr. Rakesh Munjal, Executive Member Governing & Academic Council, Indian Law Institute; Mr. Dalip Kumar, Registrar, Indian Law Institute, New Delhi; Hon. Sanjiv Arora, Consul General India, to Southeast USA.
The Gandhi Statue in Atlanta, donated by the Government of India and the first of its kind in a National Park, was inaugurated by Ambassador Andrew Young in 1998 at a glitzy ceremony organized by the National Federation of Indian American Association, NFIA under the leadership of its President Subash Razdan. At the dedication, Ambassador Naresh Chandra read a message from the President of India , Late. K.R. Narayanan, "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Martin Luther King have been joined together by invisible arcs of history. Both practitioners of non-violence believed that disobeying oppression and discrimination was their duty."
The homage at the Statue included a brief Welcome and recognition by the Antony Thaliath, Executive Director of GFUSA. He added, the Gandhi Statue has been visited by numerous prominent dignitaries all over the world, especially leaders from India .
Subash Razdan, Chair of the GFUSA, referred to the dedication of the Statue as the event of considerable significance as it “symbolized the strengthening of the bonds between the USA and India and commemorated the unity of thought and action of two of the greatest men of the century.” Razdan provided some examples of how the Statue had made an impact for better human relations and respect between the diverse communities of Georgia .
At the Statue, Consul General of India, Sanjiv Arora congratulated the members of the Gandhi Foundation of USA for maintaining the legacy of Gandhi and King and for its support of the King Center for this historic participation in the 41st Ann iversary of Dr. King's assassination, “Gandhi – MLK connection is of paramount importance in the relations between our two great countries and democracies. We cherish this historic association and are strongly committed to continuing our cooperation with The King Center, GFUSA and all others involved in spreading the eternal message of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”.
Gandhi Foundation co-founder, Late Giriraj Rao was remembered at the Statue for his first anniversary of his passing away last April. John Naugle, a director of the GFUSA Board read a short poem on Peace.
As the delegation readied itself for the Gandhi-King Peace March from the Gandhi Statue to the King Crypt, a short distance of one block, the devotional rendering of the Gandhi Prayer of "Raghu Pati Ragav" served as a befitting tribute at the Statue. The Chief Justice joined the congregation in reciting devotional songs dear to Bapu. In his address to the gathering, Chief Justice underlined the eternal message of Mahatma Gandhi.
The tour of the visiting delegation also included a visit to the Gandhi Room in the Freedom Hall followed by wreath laying at the King Crypts by the Chief Justice Balakrishnan and justice of Supreme Court, Hon Dr. Arijit Passayat accompanied by their respective wives.
Later, the VIP delegation from India was treated with warm Southern Atlanta hospitality and farewell from Hon. Councilman Kwanza Hall of district 2 at a large community reception luncheon of community leaders hosted by Gandhi Foundation (GFUSA) at the Haveli Restaurant in Atlanta.
By all accounts, it was a memorable and a historic April Saturday to remember!