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Speech competition winner reflects on MLK's legacy; Butterfield to speak in Rocky Mount

An image of a historic marker of MLK's speech in Rocky Mount
W. Jason Miller
N.C. State University
FILE — This photo shows the historical marker in Rocky Mount noting Dr. King's speech.

Monday is the day America honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And Rocky Mount holds a special place in that legacy.

About 60 years ago,Dr. King gave an early version of his "I Have a Dream" speech in the eastern North Carolina city, and young people there today have the chance to honor the civil rights leader with an oratory competition. This year's high school winner is Anna Riegel, a senior at Northern Nash High School.

Riegel said she focused her speech on voting rights.

"I wanted to talk about something that was not only true to the issue at hand, talking about MLK and his work," Riegel said. "But also true to the audience and true to the people that I was talking to in North Carolina."

She added: "I know a lot of the younger generation when I talk about voting with people just around me, the general consensus seems to be that it feels pointless. But I think a lot of people need to understand that if the younger generation is thinking this is up to the generation that's already been able to vote."

A former longtime North Carolina Congressman will be the keynote speaker at Rocky Mount's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Monday.

The event is called the "35th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Celebration." In addition to speeches from officials, former Rep. G.K. Butterfield will deliver the keynote address. Butterfield represented North Carolina's First Congressional District from 2004 through 2022.

The 75-year-old Wilson Democrat did not run for re-election this past year. Butterfield is also a former state Supreme Court Justice, serving from 2001 to 2002. He is among the few Black people who've been chosen to serve on the state's highest court since it was founded.

Other speeches at Monday's event will come from students — like Riegel — who recently won the city's annual MLK public speaking competition. It will take place at the Rocky Mount Event Center.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
Sascha Cordner is WUNC’s Supervising Editor for Daily News. She joined the station in June 2022, after working as the first statewide afternoon newscaster for the Texas Newsroom for nearly three years. As part of the NPR-Texas collaborative, she was based out of Houston Public Media.
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