Biggers, Caldwell to get 2015 Gaston County MLK Unity Award

The Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition, an initiative of Gaston Together, will present the 2015 Gaston County MLK Unity Awards to educator and visual artist James Biggers Jr. and Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell III on Jan. 19 at the MLK Plaza in Gastonia.

The nonprofit Gaston Together is an organization dedicated to the county’s most pressing needs, with a sharp focus on collaboration.

The Gaston County MLK Unity Award was established by the coalition in 2004. The award recognizes current or former Gaston County residents who have performed exemplary community service to help build bridges of unity across lines of race, class, gender, faith and/or municipalities within the county.

Names of the honorees are engraved on the MLK Monument at the MLK Plaza, the corner of Marietta Street and Long Avenue. The Jan. 19 ceremony will be held at 10:30 a.m.

A Gaston County native, Biggers is known for artwork that reflects his African heritage and includes such works as the mural “North Carolina Belongs to Children,” in the North Carolina Legislative Building; the mural “Celebration,” in the Charlotte Convention Center; and featured works in museums and art centers throughout the country.

In 1977, Biggers received a Fulbright-Hays grant to tour Japan as part of the North Carolina Art Teachers’ Japan Seminar at Duke University. He has worked closely with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on several projects.

Now retired, Biggers taught in Gaston County schools for 30 years. Currently, he serves as an adjunct professor at Gaston College.

Caldwell also grew up in Gaston County and graduated from Hunter Huss High School, UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of Law. He has practiced law for more than 20 years, including service with the Gaston County Public Defender Office. He has been a North Carolina Superior Court judge since 1993.

Caldwell is a recent president of the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges.

A lifelong member of Gastonia First United Methodist Church, he has been active as a Sunday school teacher, certified lay speaker, and member of numerous outreach and ministry programs.

The Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition is a countywide, nondenominational ministerial association formed in the late 1990s by Gaston Together.