Lewisburg’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. A Tradition Carrying on the Legacy
I’ve been reading essays and looking at posters made by schoolchildren as their contributions to the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration. They are inspiring, idealistic, and innocent, from the mouths of babes, truly, and the message is pure. “I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr., believed in people,” says one. “He made me believe in myself…He was brave and peaceful and wanted no one to get hurt.” Another says, “I might lead a Peace March one day.” And another wrote, “He wanted to go down the street and watch whites and blacks be friends.”
This year’s MLK Day March is an important one, historically, since the year 2013 marks the 150th Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the mass movements in Jackson, Mississippi, and Birmingham, Alabama. It has also been 50 years to mark the loss of Medger Evers to an assassin’s bullet, the deaths of four little girls in the Birmingham church bombing, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To paraphrase Dr. King, “In order to move forward, we must learn from and remember the past.”
So on January 21, 2013, many will join the march from Lewisburg’s Courthouse to Washington Street ’s Lewisburg United Methodist Church. There will be a free meal all who attend, followed by a wonderful presentation including music, speakers, drumming, and inspiration, all around.
The celebration in our little town has come a long way since its original inception in 1982, more than 30 years ago (two years before the federal holiday was declared for the 3rd Monday of each January). West Virginia was one of the few early states to create a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration, with local observance both here and in surrounding communities. In the early 90’s Vista and Americorps developed a national day of service theme under the banner of MLK Day – a day on/not off, and it was at the point that the celebrations became larger, with LUMC getting actively involved. A community meal was added, and the presentation became increasingly well-attended. Then the symbolic March was added, under the banner which reads, “An Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat To Justice Everywhere”. Now this event marks the largest MLK celebration in the state, with a large assemblage of all races and all ages, walking as friends, allies, partners, and celebrants!
One of the main organizers and inspirational coordinator is Steve Rutledge, who I am proud to work with on this year’s committee. He was there from the beginning. Remember the famous photo of the Mississippi Woolworth’s lunch counter “sit-in”, where students were bombarded with mustard, paint, sugar, ashtrays, and the like? That was the spring of 1963 and Steve Rutledge was there. Within two weeks, over a thousand people were imprisoned for protesting racial inequality. Jailed three times himself, Steve was involved with people who were martyred for their pursuit of civil rights. In June, 1963, after leading a demonstration, Rutledge learned of the murder of NAACP state director Medgar Evers. He wrote of the funeral: “On a terribly hot day in June of 1963 a riot broke out in Jackson, Mississippi during the funeral procession for Medgar Evers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the march but his family feared for his safety and I was assigned the task of driving him to the airport and getting him there safely to protect his life. I did so…”
Rutledge came to live in Greenbrier County in the early 70s, where he remains hard at work for the Civil Rights Movement’s highest principles, and is a mainstay of the MLK committee. He says, “…it gives each of us a chance to unite with one or more other persons to make something better – it could be our family, our school, our job, or our community.”
This year’s march and celebration on January 21st will feature an African-style drum corps from the Greenbrier Girls’ Academy, a happy birthday tribute to Dr. King from local singer Andre Williams (fresh from his audition for The Voice in Atlanta), a Cherokee version of Amazing Grace and then we will feature Mr. Arley Johnson performing his inspiring version of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
In addition, the winners of the school essay contest honoring Dr. King will be announced and many more exciting things will be presented, including a presentation by the High Rocks organization.
Join us, won’t you? Line up at the Courthouse at 11am on Monday, January 21st. You will be inspired.
If you wish to donate to this or any future MLK Day of Remembrance, please contact us at MLK Committee, CYAC, 212 Washington St., Lewisburg, WV 24901.
Donations and/or participation would be welcome.
And remember these words in everyday life: “INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE.”
– Susanna Robinson-Kenga. LBSPY 24 (Jan 14-28th)