MLK Day celebrated here with march and speeches
By Karen Hall
In what has become an annual tradition, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated in Marshall County with a march and speeches on the square, organized by members of Marshall County's NAACP.
Led by NAACP President Gary Davis, the group marched down East Commerce Street from The Acres and three-quarters of the way around the square to assemble on the west side of the courthouse.
The 50 or 60 people in the crowd prayed with Councilman Steve Thomas, and then Davis invited city and county officials to say a few words.
"I love to be here," said Lewisburg Mayor Jim Bingham. "I love you folks; I care about you, and I think you love this city."
He pointed out it has been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, and said, "I think we're making progress each day, and with each generation. I applaud those who have stood the test of time and kept their focus on what is right for the future."
County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett spoke about bridges both real and metaphorical.
"There are a lot of bridges still to be built," he said, referring to connections from one group to another.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," said Liggett. "We need everyone's help as we continue to build bridges. We've got a lot going on in Marshall County, a lot of good things -- we've done away with a lot of bad things."
"God bless America," Liggett concluded. "He's the only one who can!"
Councilman R.L. Williams said he could remember when Lewisburg was segregated, and African-Americans couldn't go into a cafe on the square through the front door, though they could go to the back door and get the same food.
"We've come a long way," Williams said. "Pass it (the memories) on -- we need to remember where we came from."
He noted he won his seat on the commission by only four votes, which shows that every vote counts.
"If we get out and vote, we can make things happen," Williams concluded.
They may have gone through separate doors, but whites and African-Americans grew up together in Lewisburg, said the next speaker, Register of Deeds Dorris Wayne Weaver.
"We are a close-knit community," he said. "Let freedom ring!"
Williams then asked the crowd how many believed African-Americans were getting an equal opportunity for employment in local government. He saw only four or five hands raised, and said, "We do have some problems in our hiring and promotion; we need to take this back to our elected officials."
Pastor Herbert Johnson added, "Nothing can get done unless we get involved. We need a generation that's going to step up."
Next to speak was Dr. Larry Thomas, whose fiery speeches have been a highlight of previous Martin Luther King Jr. Day gatherings.
This year he said, "We are not angry. We are proud of the work Dr. King did. We did not march in anger, but to honor Dr. King. His work was good work; he sacrificed his all. We must fight on and continue to believe. Thank you for being here."
Thomas went on to talk about a dream he has: getting members of all the local churches to join hands and completely circle the square and pray, perhaps on a day in April.
"I know we can circle the square," he said. "We can make it a good world. There's more than one black person in this town. We need to pray, organize, and support one another."
Finally, Davis told the group about King's life and achievements.
"Today we celebrate the legacy of a great man," he said. "We have a chance to make Lewisburg and Marshall County the best place in the world. How can we do this? By respecting one another for their character, not the color of their skin."
Here Davis was echoing King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which includes the line, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."