Former Secretary of Defense, U.S. Rep. and U.S. Sen. William S. Cohen of Maine will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast Celebration, one of three events planned by the NAACP Portland Branch to honor the slain civil rights leader and mark the 50th anniversaries of several related events.

The 33rd annual breakfast celebration will be held Jan. 20 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, recognizing the birthday of the African-American icon, who was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.

The breakfast will follow Friday’s Annual Music & Gospel Concert, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around,” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall; and Saturday’s Annual Community Dialogue, “The Silence of Inequity: Hunger, Health and Education,” at Ludcke Auditorium at the University of New England in Portland.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Portland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which initially formed in the 1920s but had dissolved by the 1950s, according to the branch’s website. The Portland branch reformed shortly before King made his only visit to Maine in 1964, when he spoke on May 6 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick and on May 7 at St. Francis College in Biddeford (now the University of New England).

Recognizing another 50th anniversary, the theme of this year’s MLK breakfast will be “A Call to Conscience: Civil Rights and the Quest for Peace and Justice,” recalling the speech that King delivered after he received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 14, 1964. The speech captured King’s lifelong effort to reconcile the contradiction between America’s stated principles of equality and justice and its persistent racism and poverty, according to a news release.

In his MLK breakfast address, Cohen will examine the current realities of the quest for peace, justice and equal rights 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation, signed on July 2 by President Lyndon Johnson, outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, especially related to voter registration and school segregation.


A graduate of Bowdoin College and Boston University School of Law, Cohen served as defense secretary from 1997 through 2000 under President Bill Clinton. Before that, Cohen represented Maine in Congress for 24 years, in the House from 1973 to 1978 and in the Senate from 1979 to 1996.

Cohen now lives near Washington, D.C., where he is chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group, a business consulting and lobbying firm. He is a board member of CBS Corp. and is married to Janet Langhart, an African-American author and TV personality who wrote a memoir, “Love in Black and White,” with her husband.

During the breakfast celebration, the NAACP will pay tribute to former South African President Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who died last month, and give a local leadership award to the person or institution that has answered King’s call to build “the beloved community.”

The breakfast celebration runs from 8 to 11 a.m. and is co-sponsored by the city of Portland, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, Homeless Voices for Justice/Preble Street, The Opportunity Alliance, Portland Public Schools, University of New England and several community-based organizations.

A separate children’s program will be held at the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine in Portland, leaving from the lobby of the Holiday Inn.

For more information about 2014 MLK events and to purchase tickets in advance, go to

Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

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