WHITEVILLE, Tenn. — After commemorating 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr. (killed April 4, 1968, in Memphis) a group of Whiteville residents, no more than 65 miles away from the Lorraine Motel where King was shot, had an idea.
“I wanted to get a license plate created in Dr. King’s memory,” Whiteville business owner Charles Morrow said. “I feel like Tennessee owes him, because this is where he was assassinated.”
After the initial idea, Morrow set out on a plan to find out what he needed to do to get a license plate made and sold in Tennessee.
He quickly learned that he would have to get 1,000 signatures before the state would order license plates to be sold.
Morrow realized, though, he couldn’t just have a license plate made for no reason; that wouldn’t do right by King’s memory. He knew he had to give people a reason to buy the license plate.
Morrow decided that the best way to commemorate King was by using the proceeds from the license plate to help as many people as possible.
The first organization he wanted to help was the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis because of everything the organization has done to preserve the history of the fight for civil rights in America.
Morrow didn’t want to stop there, though, he also wanted as many other charities to benefit as possible.
The first charity he wanted to help involved the Bible, a passion he knew he shared with King.
In Whiteville, Morrow founded a chapter of the Disciples Embracing Christian Education Bible College. The organization is non-denominational and inclusive to everyone, a virtue Morrow thought King would admire.
When Morrow started the school he said he wanted to create a study group that would allow people from any religious sect to join and feel comfortable.
“I’ve been fascinated with the Bible since I was a little kid and my aunt bought me my first one,” Morrow said. “When I put the history and spiritual aspects together, I can really feel its importance.”
Morrow wanted the next charity to benefit to be closer to home. As a Hardeman County commissioner for 28 years, Morrow has been a staple of the Whiteville community.
This year a friend of his, Whiteville town recorder Angelous Simmons, started the Whiteville Food Bank. She had just started to raise enough money to give away her first meals when she signed on with the MLK license plate.
“We did a little something last week for Thanksgiving,” Simmons said. “But I’m hoping we can get it up to once a month if we are able to raise enough money.”
If they’re able to get 1,000 license plates sold, the food bank would get around $3,750 in proceeds.
The last charity Morrow wanted to benefit was something that was more personal to him.
Morrow has three daughters and four grandchildren. One of his granddaughters, Trinity, has sickle cell anemia.
“She’s really determined,” Morrow said. “She has to go to the doctor every few weeks for blood transfusions; she’s just really strong.”
The Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee was a charity Morrow and his family were passionate about helping and knew would help a lot of people in the African-American community.
Sickle cell disproportionately affects African Americans, where, according to the CDC, 1 in 13 kids are born with the disease.
“I felt like there was a link between what Dr. King was doing with civil rights and the founder of our organization Dr. Trevor Thompson was doing with sickle cell disease,” said Michael Jackson of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee. “Dr. King not only stood for civil rights but the rights of those with health disparities and health inequalities.”
So far, Morrow and the MLK Tennessee license plate coalition have gotten 200 of the 1,000 signatures needed.
Morrow said he hopes that the coalition of charities is able to promote the idea even further, and, if possible, get even more groups involved.
You can donate to any of the charities or pre-order an MLK license plate at: mlktnplate.org