Nearly 700 people turned out Monday night for the 38th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration sponsored by the Portland chapter of the NAACP. The sold-out dinner at the Holiday Inn By the Bay featured music, film clips of Dr. King and speeches, including one from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
Mills highlighted a 1964 visit Dr. King made to Bowdoin College where he spoke about civil rights for all.
"After his remarks a student asked him, 'What do these ideas have to do with me, a white student at a basically all-white school in an all-white state?' Dr. King responded, 'If your conscience stops at the border of Maine then you are less of a person than you should be and you are as responsible for what happens in Birmingham as you are in Brunswick, Maine,'" Mills said.
Over the past eight years former Republican Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly skipped Maine's largest MLK event for what his staff said were "scheduling conflicts." LePage made national headlines in 2013 when he told a reporter the NAACP could quote "kiss my butt" when he was asked about an invitation to attend the King celebration.
Rep. Rachel Tablot Ross , president of the group's Portland chapter, asked the crowd to thank the new governor for her support.
"We thank her for not just being Janet, but we thank her for believing in this event, for not giving up on us or on Dr. King, for restoring the tradition that was lost for eight years," Talbot Ross said. "Lost for eight years! When we could not get the chief executive of this state to come to Portland and break bread with us, pray and celebrate an American hero."
Mills told the crowd that the nation has made progress over the past several decades but said "the drum beat of hate and fear is growing" and that the rights of freedom, equality and justice for all must be defended " in the courts, in the State House, in the U.S. Capitol and on the streets."
Originally published Jan. 22, 2019 at 5:57 a.m. ET.