By Stan Welch
Approximately three hundred people gathered Saturday morning at a breakfast to commemorate the life of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The renovated gymnasium at the Williamston Municipal Center was teeming, as a roster of celebrities, dignitaries, activists and performers came to the stage. WSPA television anchor Kimberely Brown served as Mistress of Ceremonies.
She welcomed the crowd, expressing her personal gratification at seeing how many people were there, and extolling the focus of the event. That focus was expressed as ‘Engagement, Enlightenment, Involvement and Action.’
Mayor Mack Durham recognized Senator Mike Gambrell’s presence, as well as that of several Town Councilmembers who attended. He also acknowledged a number of un-official officials, or lay leaders of the community. Reverend Spurgeon Mattison and long time civil rights figure Ted Mattison were included in that number.
Reverend Catlin Tierce lent his strong baritone to the singing of ‘America the Beautiful”, and the Palmetto Middle School Glee Club performed several numbers later in the program.
A video clip of Dr. King’s Mountain Top speech was played, and proved to be as stirring a half century later as it was the day he gave it in Memphis Tennessee. That presentation was followed by the awarding of plaques and cash prizes to the four winners of the essay contest held earlier.
Nova Simpson won the award for the elementary school contest, receiving a certificate and a fifty dollar prize. Anabelle McCreary won the same for the middle school contest, while Tamiah Johnson won the high school contest, receiving a hundred dollar prize. Kiera McGinnis won the overall contest with a perfect score. She also received a hundred dollars.
Reverend Darrin Johnson, an event organizer, announced that the city’s absorbing many of the costs of staging the event would make it possible for some of the corporate and personal donations to be used to fund a two hundred dollar scholarship.
Local attorney Lee Cole introduced the keynote speaker, Hervery Young, Esq, director of the state’s public defender program. Young recounted the chain of events that brought Dr. King to that Memphis motel balcony on April 4 where an assassin killed him with a single rifle shot.
That chain of events began with the death of two Memphis sanitation workers, who were killed on the job. Those deaths, and the city’s callous, nonchalant response eventually led to thirteen hundred city workers going on strike. Dr. King announced his intention to lead a march in support of the strike and he arrived in Memphis on March 18. The violence surrounding his arrival and the strike was so profound that he returned to Atlanta several days later. On April third, King returned to Memphis and was shot the next day.
Young reiterated that the theme of the day’s celebration was celebrating diversity. He proceeded to point out historical instances where America’s mostly white power structure failed to celebrate diversity, beginning with their treatment of native Americans and coming forward to modern times and his perceived plight of blacks in America.
He pointed out that true diversity involves more than just racial issues, using the analogy of the human body. “Just because you aren’t an eye or an ear doesn’t mean you have no use. Arms and legs and feet and hands all have a place.”
The gathering lasted well over two hours. Delightful Flavors of Belton catered the event.
By Stan Welch