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Pioneers for change
A group rallied for an MLK event 40 years ago; today, their efforts pay off
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(From left to right) Mr. Clarence Williams, Mr. Henry Relaford, Rev. Henry Frasier, Sr., Rev. Dr. Jimmy Smiley
As a young child, Henry Relaford’s life was not his own.
“It belonged to my parents and God,” Relaford said as he reflected on his past.
But in reality, those were not the only people who would guide and, at times, influence Relaford’s life.
“The white man … he controlled everything at that time,” he said.
 Relaford was born in Bulloch County during the 1920s. Farming was the mainstay for many families living there at the time.
However, Relaford said farming, like everything else he can remember during his childhood, was not for those who shared his skin color.
“There were signs that read for black only … for colored people only,” he said. “When I returned home from war, I couldn’t even buy a Coca-Cola.”
But it wasn’t his uncomfortable return from the war that convinced Relaford America was in need of change. He said the idea came to him at a very young age.   
“I was 5 years old, and I said, ‘this is not right. We got to walk to school in the mud and the rain, when white kids got to ride the big yellow school bus.’  I knew something was wrong,” he said.
After that, Relaford said he more or less decided to devote his life to God and to politics.
In 1946, Relaford met his wife and moved to Liberty County where she lived.
At the time, he also met the Rev. Jimmy Smiley and Henry Frasier who, along with Relaford and five other pioneers, would bring about a major change in Liberty County.
All the men had at some point met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and decided to start their own civil rights organization.
“We got together because we knew there had to be a better way,” the former armed forces veteran said.
When King was assassinated in 1968, Relaford said he and his friends went to be with the man they had grown to know and love. Relaford said he remembers it like it was yesterday.
“When they brought the body out of the college, we formed a human fence around him,” he said. “The mayor’s wife of Arkansas tried to get through it. She said she just wanted to touch him. That thing really got to me.”
When the group returned to Liberty County, Relaford said they were inspired to spark up more change.
The group had seen the Savannah’s parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, and Relaford said they wanted to organize a parade for Liberty County – a task he admits was not accomplished without plenty of opposition.
 “We thought, ‘we can have the same,’ ” he said. “But we had a lot of people say, ‘ain’t nothing going to ever change.’ Back then, they did not want to join, but you just got to keep on. ”
On Monday, it will be a little more than 40 years since Relaford and his friends first came up with the idea for Liberty County’s MLK parade.
 Although it took about three years for Relaford and his friends to finally organize a small parade, today’s parade organizers say their efforts were not in vain.
The Rev. Alvin Jackson currently is the president of Liberty County’s MLK association, which is in charge of organizing Liberty County’s MLK parade and events.
“They brought about a change in Liberty County and we have continued it,” Jackson said. “When they started they could not get the bands to participate, and now we have bands from every school participating.”
Monday’s parade begins at 10 a.m. at Bradwell Institute.  This year’s theme is Changing the World One Day at a Time.
Kenneth Howard, the MLK association’s second vice president, said the theme recognizes King, President-elect Barack Obama and everyone who has made a difference in the county.
“We are recognizing those who have really contributed, not just to the MLK celebration, but to the community as a whole,” Howard said.
Daisy Jones, MLK association public relations officer, said she hopes the event will create more room for change.
“We’re hoping not just for excitement about the change in the White House, but we’re hoping the [parade’s] excitement and impact will resonate at the individual level,” she said.
Relaford said he echoes Jones’ sentiment, but will not be at Monday’s parade.
Instead, Relaford said he plans to be in Washington as the nation celebrates the inauguration of its first black president.
“What Martin Luther King spoke about 40 years ago just came to pass. He said one day there would be a black president,” Relaford said.  “You see all things are possible through God to those who believe.”

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