First Posted: 1/15/2009
ROWLAND - Keorie McMillan figures that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. must have walked at least a thousand miles to make life better for young people like himself.
On Monday, the 10-year-old walked to honor King.
Keorie and dozens of wide-eyed girls and boys were among those who came out to participate in Rowland's annual King Day celebration that began with a march down Main Street to the road named for King. The march was followed by speeches, music and a luncheon.
“We are celebrating what he did and what he would still be doing if he was still alive,” said Keorie, a fifth-grader at Carroll Middle School.
King, the victim of an assassin's bullet in 1968, would have turned 77 on Sunday. The Rowland event was one of several being held in the county. The towns of Lumberton, Maxton and Fairmont all remembered King's work with programs urging people to continue to pursue King's dream of racial equality.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the federal holiday, first held on Jan. 20, 1986.
Deonka Ragmon, 14, and her sister, Angelique, 11, took part in the 65-person “Freedom March” in Rowland. Deonka said King fought segregation and changed the way the races think about each other.
“(King) had us to come together with people from other races,” Deonka said.
The Carolina Ministerial Alliance has sponsored the King march in Rowland for the past six years. The group, led by a police escort, carried banners and sang hymns. Some residents left their yards to join in. But not everyone who laced up their walking shoes lived in town.
Courtney Fletcher, 17, and his brother, Jamall, 11, came from Lumberton. They have attended the event with their grandparents for the last three years.
“We are honoring a great man who did great work for, not just African-Americans, but everybody,” Courtney said.
Tervante Smith, 13, also was among the young marchers. Smith toured a museum in Atlanta three years ago that exhibited King's clerical robe, shoes, Bible and the key to the Memphis motel room where he was killed on April 4, 1968.
“He was a great leader,” Smith said.
After the march, the walkers joined 150 others at the Southside Alumni Building to listen to the Carolina Youth Action Association choir and state Rep. Garland Pierce.
Pierce directed much of his speech to the young people.
“When dreams die, our youth become pharmaceutical salesmen on the corner without a license,” Pierce said. “When dreams die, our young boys and girls go into motherhood and fatherhood before they can sign a legal document. When dreams die, they drop out of school. Hold on to your dreams.”
Pierce, a Baptist minister, was presented the 2006 Martin Luther King Jr. Presidential Award by the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in Winston-Salem on Friday.
At Fairmont's celebration, the Rev. Martine Spencer focused his King Day talk on young people as well.
Spencer said the shackles of injustice and oppression won't be broken with violence or hostility. The key, according to Spencer, is in the classroom, in books and in the Bible.
Education enabled King to pursue his dreams and is the first step toward pursuing yours, she told the crowd of nearly 100 residents, scattered like buckshot in Rosenwald Elementary's 750-seat E.R. Gause Auditorium.
“Get all the education you can,” she said. “Master as much of the intensive and extensive fields of knowledge as possible.”
Spencer, a pastor at Jonesville Baptist Church, was one of several speakers at “A Day of Togetherness,” a ceremony organized by the Fairmont Activities Committee to honor King.
Spencer challenged the crowd to use King's life as a call to action.
“We must teach the children. We must make sure our past failures do not become future failures,” Spencer said. “Hold on to your dreams and treat everyone with dignity and respect. Life don't owe you. You owe life.”
The program was the first town-sponsored King event since 2003, according to Mayor Charles Kemp.
The committee made up for lost time by packing the two-hour program with dancing, singing and preaching.
Celebrants stomped their feet to the Jonesville Baptist Church choir, clapped as the gospel group Gratitude serenaded the crowd, and laughed when Mayor Charles Kemp told the Jonesville Baptist Church choir he would like to perform with them - kind of.
“I won't actually sing, I'll just sway,” Kemp said.
The Rev. David M. Walker, music director at Jonesville Baptist Church, transformed the wooden stage and pulpit into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with a near pitch-perfect recital of King's famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice,” said Walker, as he recited King's words while wearing a white robe, said. “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”