On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Riverhead pastor issues call to action

The Rev. Charles Coverdale, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Riverhead, has seen devotion to celebrating the remarkable life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. evolve over the years.

The Rev. Coverdale spoke Sunday at the East End Voter Coalition’s 22nd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at Riverhead Free Library.

There, he noted that the celebration of Dr. King’s message of love and nonviolence has grown over time and that people have become more mindful and more dedicated to observing the day, which is now celebrated as a national holiday.

“Some 38 years ago, members of my own church would not follow me in celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday,” he said. He added that few local businesses closed for the day and people in all walks of life did not take the day off. 

He said Dr. King’s life was “worthy to be celebrated” and worthy of recognition through as a national holiday in America. “I encouraged people who didn’t have the day off to take it as a personal day,” he said. 

Sunday’s event drew approximately 120 people. But in the beginning, the pastor said, attendance was far lower. “We didn’t know how many people were coming,” he said. “But as word spread, people began to come to from other places, and not just from Riverhead.” 

As attendance grew each year, the Rev. Coverdale said, larger and larger spaces had to be found to accommodate the growing crowds who came to hear him speak about Dr. King. The celebration grew to the point where the event moved off the North Fork to a hotel in Islandia.

Since Dr. King’s birthday became an official holiday in 1986, he said, “People have no excuse for not coming. They are off from work and they could come.”