Long County celebrated its first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and program Jan. 10 in Ludowici. The festivities began at 10 a.m. when the procession, which consisted of 32 entries, left Walker Elementary School and made its way to Long Middle School.
Despite cold weather, a large crowd gathered along the route, cheered and collected candy thrown by those on floats. Grand marshal Mildred Elder first had the idea to recognize King’s birthday with a local celebration.
After the parade, a group gathered in the middle school’s cafeteria to continue the celebration, which was themed “Living the Dream: Where Do We Go from Here?”
Program emcee Lamar Berry welcomed everyone and talked briefly about King’s hope that all people one day would be treated equally. He touched on King’s 1968 death, but stressed the importance of carrying on the civil-rights leader’s work.
“What’s important is what happened after the dream in 1968,” Berry said.
A New Beginning Church Pastor Tom Gardner gave the invocation. He said that even though society often looks at today’s racial problems and attributes them to peoples’ differences, the real problem actually is that people are not looking to God for leadership.
“We don’t have a race problem today; but what we have is a sin problem,” Gardner said.
Event planning-committee member Vanessa Cunningham recognized Elder and said that without the grand marshal’s vision, none of the festivities would have come to pass.
Elder graciously accepted the praise and took the podium herself, focusing on the civil-rights movement’s slow journey toward progress.
“Progress demands the struggle — it doesn’t happen overnight. I say we continue the journey that started so many years ago … people need to be excellent, not average, and be God-fearing people,” Elder said.
Many other elected leaders also addressed the crowd, including Long County Sheriff Craig Nobles, Clerk of Court Sherry Long and Ludowici Mayor James Fuller.
“Everyone in the area knows that we are growing in numbers, but it is also evident that we are growing in unity,” Nobles said.
Long concurred and added, “We need to trust God to lead us and not follow man … we all need to learn from the past and move forward.”
Long County Board of Education member Florence Baggs recalled that education was one of King’s main passions and, like him, today’s community must continue to make school a priority.
“If we don’t educate our children, we will imprison our children,” Baggs said.
Ludowici Chief of Police Robert Poppell, Tax Commissioner Becky Fowler, Ludowici City Councilwoman Mary Hamilton and County Commissioner Willie Thompson also attended the ceremony.
On behalf of the Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council, Riceboro Mayor William Austin made an appearance and presented Hamilton with a plaque to recognize the Long County planning committee’s efforts in organizing the parade and festivities.
Following the presentation, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was recited by high-school senior Mathew Brewton. As Brewton read excerpts from the speech, he highlighted King’s goal of using peaceful action to bring about change.
Community members performed a skit about the influential people in King’s life, including his wife, Coretta Scott King; his father, Martin Luther King Sr.; and Rosa Parks.
The keynote speaker, St. James Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Dr. James Evans, stressed the importance of moving forward and cautioned against taking steps back.
“Where do we go from here, not as a white people or a black people or as any other kind of people, but as Americans — where do we go?” Evans asked.
He said that the nation needs to emulate King and work toward achieving the high mark of Jesus Christ. The pastor warned the crowd that if society doesn’t move toward Christ, things will only get worse. He encouraged everyone to pray.
“May God bless us all in the name of Jesus Christ,” Evans said.
After the program, Hamilton said plans already are in the works for next year’s parade and celebration. She also expressed gratitude for the community’s support and attendance.
“I want to thank all of the people who helped with the day, and also all who came out to support our parade and program. It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it,” Hamilton said.