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Here’s why Martin Luther King wore a lei on his historic Alabama march

A month after Hawaii became a state, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Oahu.
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 4:38 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2022 at 7:16 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A month after Hawaii became a state in 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Oahu to address the first state Legislature and to meet with the Rev. Abraham Akaka.

“They were both men of great commitment to God and to the idea that although things were not equal for everybody, they needed to be,” said Akaka’s son, Jeffrey.

The kahu of Kawaiahao Church and the civil rights champion became close friends.

That’s why in 1965 King and other civil rights leaders wore lei when they led a history-making march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.

“For the final march on Selma, my dad was in solidarity with Dr. King,” Jeffrey Akaka said.

The lei were sewn by kupuna in Akaka’s congregation and put into a box with a copy of a personal note. Akaka’s daughter, Pualani has her dad’s handwritten draft and is still overcome when she reads aloud the words he wrote.

“Dear brother, Martin Luther King, as you bring good news to the meek, bind up those that are bruised, release the captives, our prayer and aloha reach to enfold you. History will honor this hour because his chosen servant was faithful, and a great nation responded to that faithfulness. Aloha. A.A..”

The lei were hand delivered to King by a group from Hawaii that included Charles Campbell who would go on to chair Hawaii’s Civil Rights Conference.

“Mr. Campbell went to the march itself, so that’s how the leis got there,” Pualani said.

She and her siblings didn’t see their father’s reaction to the Selma march. But they remember his own personal campaign for civil rights. When he lobbied for the nation’s passage of the civil rights bill, he went to Washington to deliver lei to lawmakers.

“And he called for Hawaii to be the Aloha state. And see what happened? Hawaii is the Aloha state,” Jeffrey Akaka said.

Abraham Akaka was the pastor of Kawaiahao Church for nearly 30 years. The plumeria King wore at Selma came from the church grounds and hold their own special place in that pivotal point in history.

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