Former Sen. William Cohen to headline Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Portland

Posted Jan. 10, 2014, at 12:41 p.m.
Former Sen. William Cohen
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Former Sen. William Cohen Buy Photo
In this University of New England archival photo, famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., grants a television interview during his first visit to Maine in 1964. King gave a speech that year at the Biddeford campus of St. Francis College, which would later become UNE.
Courtesy of UNE
In this University of New England archival photo, famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., grants a television interview during his first visit to Maine in 1964. King gave a speech that year at the Biddeford campus of St. Francis College, which would later become UNE.

PORTLAND, Maine — Former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Sen. William Cohen is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech Jan. 20 at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Portland.

The yearly breakfast — which will also feature a special recognition of the late South African human rights leader Nelson Mandela, who died last month — highlights a series of events taking place over the holiday weekend. Those include a Friday night, Jan. 17, gospel concert headlined by the Kenya Hall Band, followed by a Saturday afternoon, Jan. 18, community dialogue on race and hunger at University of New England’s Ludcke Auditorium in Portland.

On Monday evening, Jan. 20, UNE will host a reception, photography exhibit opening and documentary showing at its Biddeford campus as part of a separate series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s first visit to Maine, which occurred in May 1964.

During the annual holiday breakfast, which is in its 33rd year and will take place 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at Holiday Inn By The Bay, Cohen will highlight a lineup of speakers that also includes Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, NAACP Portland President Rachel Talbot Ross, and historian and former state Rep. Herbert Adams.

In addition to 50 years since King’s first Maine address, which took place in Biddeford, 2014 represents three other significant gold anniversaries in local and national civil rights history.

In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, seen as a landmark law that widely outlawed racial discrimination across a number of fronts, and King, who had previously founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech the prior year, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Locally, the Portland branch of the NAACP was established in 1964.

Cohen, who represented Maine in Congress for more than two decades, is slated in his keynote address to “examine the current realities in the quest for peace, justice and equal rights” in the context of those milestones, according to an event announcement.

More than 1,000 people turned out in Bangor two months ago when Cohen joined former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson for a lecture event.

Speaking at the time about congressional gridlock over the federal budget, Cohen told that audience it’s up to the American people to demand change from their elected officials.

“It’s going to take the American people saying, ‘We’ve gotten selfish, we haven’t disciplined ourselves, we’ve gotten soft and flabby in our thinking and our policies, and we are going to forfeit the future unless we change,’” he said at the November event. “The great thing about this country is that we are so capable of change and when forced to do so, we will do so.”

An event for children 1-12 years old will be held at the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine nearby during the Jan. 20 breakfast.

For tickets to the breakfast, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/535710

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