Celebrating the King
By: Ramsey Nix
As Citizens Honor King's Legacy, The Also Celebrate Victory
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday celebration on Monday was fraught with significance, and King's spirit dwelled in every detail. The front-page cover of the New York Times featured a large full-color photograph of thousands of Americans– white, black, Hispanic, Asian– gathered together on the National Mall.
That picture was reminiscent of another iconic photo of a different era. It was taken on the Mall in 1963, when King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in front of a sea of civil rights protestors who had convened for the historic March on Washington. At that momentous time, King laid the groundwork for the inauguration we're celebrating 46 years later.
Morgan County didn't feel that far away from our nation's capital on Monday, as its citizens gathered together to honor King's legacy at a morning civic program and an evening religious service, both sponsored by the Morgan County Branch of the NAACP. The significance of the upcoming inauguration of the first African-American U.S. president in the context of the Civil Rights Movement that King kick-started was not lost on anyone. It felt like the greatest gift our country could present to King on what would have been his 80th birthday.
"As we celebrate one man's legacy, we honor another man's victory," Mayor Pro Temp Fred Perriman exclaimed, greeting the big room full of people who arrived for the breakfast celebration at Source of Light Ministries Monday morning.
Between song and scripture, NAACP board member Michael Naples reminded the crowd of another relevant milestone. "This year marked the 100th anniversary of the NAACP. The work of the NAACP laid the groundwork for what we're going to celebrate tomorrow. We've made gains, but let none of us think the battle is over," he said.
Laura Butler, president of the NAACP, kept the program rolling smoothly as the morning's emcee. When she introduced the guest speaker, however, she had a hard time containing her excitement. She welcomed Gary Walker, Morgan County High School's senior class president, to the stage. "This young person is going to take the torch and run with it, because us elders are walking!" she exclaimed, and members of the audience responded, "Amen!"
Looking tall in his black suit, young Walker did not disappoint. He delivered a speech that would have made King proud. "We can think on a higher level when we work together," said Walker. "If we could put each other first, we could be a great nation."
Through an anecdote about a sister who gave her brother her allowance so that he could visit a petting zoo, Walker illustrated one of King's most poignant messages: that love is a sacrificial action. "We must be willing to make a sacrifice to love other people," Walker said. "Dr. King never said it would be easy."
The senior class president concluded by encouraging audience members to support Barack Obama's vision for service and unity, explaining how that would be the best way to honor King's legacy right now.
Walker and his family also attended the evening religious program held at Flat Rock Baptist Church. Inside the church vestibule, Walker shared his sentiments about this year's M.L.K. Day. "This year, with Obama's election, people can see what King was working towards before he died. That's so significant," he said.
Inside the chapel, the Praise Dancers danced in flowing red gowns to a song that said, "I never would have made it without you," as visitors settled into the pews for a long evening service. Reverend Willie Enus, pastor of Jackson Grove Baptist Church welcomed everyone: "Tonight we should be shouting for joy. Some of us never thought we'd see this day: Tomorrow a black man will be elected president of the United States of America!"
Reverend Harlon Heard, pastor of Smyrna Baptist Church and guest speaker of the evening, began by explaining, "We're living out a prophesy that took place some 40 years ago."
Heard recalled King's dream of a new non-exploitative society free from the scourge of racism. "The scripture tells us that without a dream, without a vision, the people will perish. King gave us a vision," he said.
In the spirited tradition of the African-American Baptist church, congregants vocally responded to every question raised and sentiment put forth. When Heard reminded them that King's vision was meant not only for black people, but for all people, the audience nodded, "That's right."
"If it hadn't been for Dr. King, do you think we'd have even considered a black man or a woman for president?" the pastor exclaimed. To which there came a resounding "Amen" from the pews in front of him.
Following Heard's soulful sermon, James Edwards, vice president of the Morgan County NAACP, appealed to the congregation for new members. He explained that their chapter was in jeopardy of losing its charter if it was unable to garner 100 new memberships by February. He especially appealed to the youth.
In his closing remarks and benediction, Flat Rock's Reverend Charles Johnson urged everyone in attendance to pick up King's cross, because his mission remains relevant today in Morgan County. "What about the poor people hanging out on East Washington Street? If they had gainful employment, do you think they'd be out there drinking every day? As civil rights workers, we should address that situation and say, 'yes, we can.'"
He continued by listing a host of problems that still plague the black community– teen pregnancy, drug addiction, police discrimination, and homelessness– to which the roomful of civil rights advocates responded, "Yes, we can," hoping that Obama's motto would come to define an age of responsibility and progress in America and here in Morgan County.
The guest pastor concluded the evening with a most poignant statement: "Instead of judging Barack Obama by the color of his skin, 62 percent of white voters chose to judge him for the content of his character." Goose bumps most certainly rose on every arm in the house.
To view the Photo Spread layout please click HERE
Published in the January 22, 2009 edition.