Members of the community will gather Saturday to honor the memory of America’s most well-known civil rights leader.

The Burke County branch of the NAACP will host its annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Morganton Community House. Guest speaker will be Judge Rene Caldwell Gilbertson. Gilbertson, a Morganton native, is a superior court judge in Los Angeles County, California.

“The topic of my speech is ‘Our Voice, Our Vote,’ and it calls on individuals to utilize their voice and platform to promote social change for the benefit of the collective good,” Gilbertson said. “The speech will also discuss the evolution of voting rights and our responsibility to honor those who came before us to fight for those rights.”

Gilbertson, the daughter of Robert and Ola Caldwell of Morganton, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Juris Doctor degree from Wake Forest University after graduating from Freedom High School in 1985, according to her biography.

While at Wake Forest, she served on student government and was the founding president of the Pi Omicron Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc, a public service sorority for women of color and the first sorority on the Wake Forest campus, her biography reads. In law school, she and several of her fellow graduate students began a program through the Winston-Salem Urban League working with middle and high school children to encourage them to consider careers in public service, law, the sciences or medicine.

Upon moving to Los Angeles County in the early ’90s, Gilbertson began volunteering at the newly formed First AME Church Legal Clinic as one of its first volunteer attorneys and also worked in the NAACP West Coast legal office.

As an attorney, she worked to prevent child abuse and neglect and to ensure that necessary services were provided to children and families, her biography continues. She began her legal career as a staff attorney at The Alliance for Children’s Rights and, by 1995, became its interim executive director. She helped families navigate legal issues, such as access to health care, guardianships, government benefits, special education services and access to mental health and regional center services. In 1996, she began representing children in the juvenile dependency arena at Children’s Law Center Los Angeles.

From 1998-2018, Gilbertson worked in the Office of the County Counsel, where she handled child abuse and neglect cases on behalf of the county. She served as legal advisor to the Sheriff’s Department and advisor to the Executive Office of the Board of Supervisors handling sensitive matters, such as permissible political activities, post government employment issues and records requests pursuant to the California Public Records Act. She represented the County Registrar-Recorder, and handled litigation, including emergency writs and other legal matters.

She was elected superior court judge in the June 5, 2018, primary and, following the election, California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her to the bench Oct. 11, 2019, according to her biography. She currently presides over a criminal trial court in the Torrance Courthouse.

Since joining the bench, Gilbertson has become active in the American Inns of Court, working to bridge the gap between attorneys, judges and other legal professionals.

She is currently on the board of directors of the Cancer Support Community of Redondo Beach and is a member of the Palos Verdes Chapter of the National Charities League, a service organization for mothers and daughters. She formerly served as parent advisor for her son’s Los Hermanos public service club and was a Cub Scout Leader for the Saint John Fisher Church Troop for five years.

Gilbertson met her husband, Jack Gilbertson, while in law school at Wake Forest. They were married at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Morganton, and have been married for more than 26 years. The couple has four children: Taylor, 24; Stanton, 22; Robert, 21; and Devin, 16.

Tickets for the banquet are $30 each and may be purchased through members of the Burke NAACP. For more information or to purchase tickets, call Ruth Roseboro at 828-413-2193 or Deloris McDowell at 828-439-4133.

Gilbertson reflected on the upcoming national Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday Monday.

“On Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I would like all of us to keep in mind Dr. King’s messages of civic and moral responsibility, comporting oneself with dignity and meeting hate with love,” she said.

Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at

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