The King Center weighs in on SD honor song dispute

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CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. (AP) - An organization started by the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is supporting a yearslong effort to include a traditional Lakota honor song in the high school graduation ceremony in the southeastern South Dakota city of Chamberlain.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta recently sent a letter to the Chamberlain School Board in support of an honor song. It was signed by King’s daughter Bernice King, The Daily Republic newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/1lBK8R3 ).

“These songs convey positive messages of value to students of all cultures,” King wrote. “When they are sung in the Native language, they affirm shared pride in the wonderful Native American heritage of South Dakota and other states in the region.”

More than one-third of the Chamberlain School District’s 900 students are American Indian. Supporters of an honor song at graduation have been lobbying for several years.

Supporter James Cadwell said an honor song would improve race relations in the community of 2,400 people

“The honor song is important, but it’s obvious at this point there are much bigger issues in the community in regards to racism, with regards to understanding and respecting other communities,” he said.

School board members say a feathering ceremony the night before graduation honors tribal students and that the commencement exercise should be about recognizing academic achievements rather than cultural ties. The board also says that the school district has done other things to improve race relations, including assemblies, staff training, a native parent advisory council and allowing graduates to wear eagle feathers at graduation.

Chamberlain Superintendent Debra Johnson said she had not seen the letter from The King Center and declined comment.

Cadwell said he has asked the school board to discuss the letter at its next meeting.

Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech really talks about transformation,” Cadwell said. “It talks about bringing people together rather than separating people.”

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Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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