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On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we should remember that Dr. King’s life was fraught with danger, and he lived under the threat of death for merely advocating for equality.

As we gather to hear the speeches of Dr. King and celebrate his life achievements, to honor him we should all endeavor to live our lives with the courage of our convictions.

Unfortunately, many MLK Day ceremonies have become venues for the platitudes of the powerful to make declarations of commitment that are not honored throughout the rest of the year.

We can no longer allow the King Day celebrations to be photo opportunities for political and business leaders who do not support Dr. King’s civil rights legacy. Anyone who shows up to speak at MLK Day activities yet refuses to back the fundamental rights of equality that Dr. King espoused, should receive rebuke and challenge, on the spot. This is not a partisan political position because this rebuke has nothing to do with party affiliation.

We are facing civil rights obstacles today that Dr. King thought defeated and settled at the time of his death. For instance, the right to vote is a fundamental and sacrosanct tenant of democracy and any attempt to limit or dissuade this right is not only unpatriotic but immoral. How can those who celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King advocate for laws around the country that limit voting rights or stand silent when these initiatives become law? It is an anathema to sing the praises of Dr. King while enabling barriers to the access for which he gave his life.

Due to the need for Sen. Joe Manchin’s support and vote, West Virginia has become the epicenter for the fight for voting rights and economic advancement for struggling communities through the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Build Back Better Program and the need to end or reform the Senate filibuster.

It is sickening to see the almost continuous ads in West Virginia complementing Manchin, D-W.Va., as if he has done anything to protect the right to vote or provide resources for poor. West Virginia has become like a Manchin fiefdom where retired generals and other formerly dignified leaders grovel like medieval aristocrats required to pay unearned fealty and homage to the king of the land to the detriment of the lowly serfs. Shameful.

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Interestingly, West Virginia was also in the news when Dr. King and other civil rights leaders were advocating for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., delivered an 800-page speech as he took the floor in a 14 hour, 13-minute filibuster speech. When Byrd finished his speech, the 60-day filibuster was over, and history’s most important Civil Rights Act passed with Republican support.

Importantly, Byrd eventually regretted his anti-civil rights actions and particularly his filibuster in interviews and writings before his death.

By the early 2000s, Byrd had built a reputation as a staunch advocate for civil rights, earned a 100% approval rating from the NAACP and was a champion for the funding for a national memorial to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Byrd told me personally that of all people in America, he knew he had to vote for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Byrd had the courage to change.

Our democracy is in peril, and we need the courage of Dr. Martin Luther King and his generation to speak truth to power and make changes when necessary. It is not enough to use his words if we don’t reflect his willingness to risk our station in society and even our careers and lives for the uplifting of the poor, the inclusion of the locked out and underrepresented and the sanctity of voting rights.

It has been my honor, along with other people of good will in West Virginia, to aligned with the Rev. William Barber as he leads the fight for voting rights, resources for the poor and the pushback to the selfish positions and policies of Manchin and Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va.. Their actions as Senators from West Virginia have changed the perception of the Manchin and Moore name from being advocates for civil and voting rights like their forebears to obstructionists who stand in the way of progress for poor and disadvantaged communities.

They, of all people, have forfeited the right to appear at Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies or even to make declarations in the name of this drum major for justice and equality.

David M. Fryson, Pastor of the New First Baptist Church of Kanawha City in Charleston, is also an attorney and a diversity professional. He is the retired founding Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and Vice President of the West Virginia University Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and currently serves as Interim Vice President and CDO of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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