By Karin Kapsidelis


When the microphone went mute as the soloist sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” not a word was lost as more than 1,000 voices spontaneously joined in to sing the anthem.

That note of unity, struck yesterday at the Arthur Ashe Center, was picked up in events across Richmond honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from a prayer service downtown to a dance processional at the University of Richmond.

But amid the celebration for what would have been King’s 81st birthday were warnings that for many, the dream still is denied.

“Our work is not yet over,” Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones said at the Living the Dream Mass Meeting at the Ashe Center.

He said Richmonders still celebrating the election of President Barack Obama need to stop the party and roll up their sleeves.

At the University of Richmond, Oliver W. Hill Jr., whose father was among the attorneys who argued the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court, called quality education a civil right.

The outrage that led to the Brown case is needed again today to fight a substandard education system that has become a national disgrace and a threat to homeland security, he said.

Hill, chairman of the psychology department at Virginia State University, said the civil-rights movement also needs to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“When laws are based on who people are, that’s a civil-rights issue,” he told nearly 800 people in Cannon Memorial Chapel.

At the Ashe Center, donations were collected to aid victims of the earthquake in Haiti after the mayor criticized the “unmitigated audacity” of Virginia Beach-based evangelist broadcaster Pat Robertson, who characterized the disaster as a punishment.

Jones, a minister himself, urged prayers for Haiti but said Richmond needs them, too.

It’s crucial “not to let our guard down,” Jones said, because “the degree of tolerance is at an all-time low.”

The event’s keynote speaker was Barbara Howard, a native of South Africa who is the wife of Hampden-Sydney College’s president, Christopher B. Howard.

She recounted growing up under apartheid but also of having “the great fortune” to have voted for both Obama and Nelson Mandela.

She cast her ballot for Mandela with her mother and grandmother — three generations voting for the first time together — and recalled her grandmother’s fears that the new president would be assassinated just as King was.