Martin Luther King's legacy of community involvement honored

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 10:27 AM

It has been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was enacted, and in Caldwell County the fight that got that legislation passed and the spirit behind it still show strong.

Monday afternoon, as students sat out of school and the nation enjoyed a holiday, a group started forming at J.E. Broyhill Park on Ridge Street in the unusually warm January sun.

Trailing in one and two at a time, the crowd soon grew to nearly 50, and just after 3:30 p.m. started walking. It was the beginning of the annual commemorative celebration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The march to the center of downtown Lenoir culminated with speakers telling of the mark that King and his work left on their lives.

Carly Schwartz, a teacher at Davenport A+ School, spoke about being 8 years old in northern Virginia, crying while hearing about King’s death as her parents played cards in the other room, and urged the crowd to carry on his legacy by becoming more involved in the community.

Afterward, the marchers moved on to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Greenhaven Drive, singing freedom songs. At the Martin Luther King Center, another crowd was forming, to join the marchers in listening to a selection of speakers, a choir and dancers. The Lenoir Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted the day of celebration, which ended with the commemorative service for King, in a community center bearing his name.

Lou Ella Kincaid, Crissy Thomas and Ike Perkins were honored as special guests. Kincaid spoke about her experience with the NAACP in Caldwell County, and urged the community to get more involved in ensuring each child gets an education. Thomas and Perkins, both newly elected members of the Lenoir City Council, spoke about the honor of being elected and the opportunity to be a voice for the community.

But the featured speaker of the night was the Rev. E.B. Freeman, executive director of the Dulatown Outreach Center and former president of the Caldwell County NAACP.

Freeman spoke passionately to the crowd, which often answered him with agreement. He spoke of the legacy of King, the importance and power of the NAACP and the problems currently facing the African-American community in Lenoir, saying that it will take community involvement and action to help fight poverty, racism and injustice, and that the legacy of “I Have a Dream” still resonates to this day.

He called the crowd to join the NAACP, which he called “the largest, most feared, most effective civil rights organization in the U.S.,” saying that becoming involved in the community and voting is what makes the difference.

Freeman condemned Republican state leadership in Raleigh for freezing teacher pay, refusing to expand Medicaid and cutting back on voting rights, saying they have thrown the poor and disenfranchised under the bus.

He challenged local leaders Thomas and Perkins to stay steadfast in representing their communities.

The NAACP is the “voice for the voiceless,” Freeman said, and he told the crowd that “in order to make the dream come alive, you need to be involved.”