Community churches, civic organizations and local leaders are planning a series of events to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scheduled from Friday-Monday, Jan. 16-19.
The theme for this year’s celebration is, “The Power, Purpose and Promise of HIStory … Get a Grip.”
According to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Association Inc., the first event scheduled for this year starts at 7 p.m. Friday at the Trinity Missionary Baptist Temple. Donald Lovette — who is chairman of the Liberty County Board of Commissioners, first vice president of the MLK Observance Association and a playwright — wrote the script for a dramatic presentation called, “And that’s Not How the Story Ends.”
“A high-school student is assigned to interview a local historian on the civil-rights movement and quickly finds out it is more of a story than he ever imagined,” Lovette said, summarizing his play. “In getting the story, he discovers many of the sacrifices made for the freedoms he enjoys today and that he, too, has a place in the movement. It is written with humor, inspiration and education.”
Lovette said several points are emphasized in the play, including the understanding that people die but movements live on. The play also dispels the belief of some that the civil-rights movement died in 1968 with murder of its leader, King.
Mentioned in the play are local civil-rights leaders, including Ralph Quarterman, the first African-American in Liberty County to seek political office since Reconstruction; Carrie Kent Brown, one of the first African-American female mayors; and John McIver, one of the first African-American mayors elected in the 10-year period following King’s assassination.
“The play challenges everyone to become part of the movement,” Lovette said. “(It) stars Tyriek Holmes, who will sing an original song, ‘A movement is what I am.’ It also stars (Assistant City Manager) Ken Howard, Paulette Simmons Robertson, Tika Gilyard, Bobby Reynolds Jr., Randy Knox, Ajmanni Jefferson, Melvin Kimble II, Cathy Smiley, Leah Hayes and Kendan Wilder.”
Saturday, Jan. 17 will begin with the Annual Leadership and Grand Marshal Breakfast at 8:30 a.m. at the Historic Dorchester Academy. On Sunday, area worship and fellowship services will focus on “One nation under God.” Then on Monday, the annual MLK Jr. Day Parade starts 10 a.m.
Following the parade, there will be a commemorative service at noon in Bradwell Institute’s gym. The keynote speaker for the service is the Rev. Paul Shepherd of Thankful Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah.
“It is important to remember Dr. King and the civil-rights movement because he and others who stood with him were extremely key to availing civil rights in this country to everyone,” said Daisy Jones, Homeless Prevention coordinator and association member. “There must be a leader and a voice, and Dr. King was that voice. Although he died, death does not end (his) vision. … We must remind our youth where we have come from and their responsibility to get an education, resist a sense of entitlement and contribute to society.”
Jones has served with the association since 2008 as treasurer and helps with publicity for the parade and the golf tournament, which raises funds for youth scholarships. She said she was only 6 years old when King died.
“I watched the funeral of Dr. King on TV in my first-grade classroom,” she said. “We cried because even then we could feel the loss of such a dynamic man and leader of the fight for equality. I experienced segregation and verbal abuse as a child growing up in Florida. … I remember segregation, the tension, fights and misunderstandings at school, standing up on a crowded bus, etc. I was affected by it, but it never made me angry or resentful. I have had many opportunities for which I am grateful.”
Graylan Quarterman, the newly elected president of the Liberty County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is minimally involved with coordinating this year’s MLK observances; however, he will participate in all the events of this year’s celebration.
“What I want to emphasize is that we make Dr. King’s dream a reality, that we show the value of every man in our community,” Quarterman said. “We should continue to reflect on the past and meditate on the future but focus on present. … The NAACP wants to ensure the folks less able to fend for themselves politically, educationally and economically have a voice.”
The Rev. Alvin Jackson, pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church and association president, called this year’s festivities a community celebration. Jackson said he was in the third or fourth grade when King died, and though he hails from Augusta rather than Liberty County, the pastor said he learned about King’s connection with this community when he studied the civil-rights leader’s life.
“Personally, I think we have one of the best celebrations in the country,” Jackson said. “It’s a three-day event that includes the whole community. We involve everybody, including our youth and our military. I just want to thank everybody for their support.”