By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
People of all faiths, races and backgrounds came together in Barbourville Monday to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — and to keep his dream alive.
From a morning breakfast and a walk down Knox Street, to a stirring, spirited special program inside the Knox County Courthouse, the first-ever celebration in Barbourville brought his message of equality, non-violence and hope of a better tomorrow to the forefront.
“They really responded today. This was the dream in actuality,” said one of the speakers, Rev. Andrew Baskins, Pastor of the Hamilton Baptist Church in Flat Lick.
Around 150-175 persons attended the events. That’s according to Dora Sue Oxendine Farmer of the Knox County Democratic Women’s Club, who sponsored the day’s activities.
The commemorative celebration was held on Dr. King’s birthday, and had the support of both the City of Barbourville and the Knox County Fiscal Court.
It began with a prayer breakfast at 10 a.m. at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Barbourville, which Farmer noted well well-attended.
Those who were at the breakfast joined others who met at the Union Plaza Shopping Center at 11:30 a.m. From there, they would get ready for the walk from the plaza to the Knox County Courthouse, where the program was held.
Fifteen minutes later, with two Barbourville Police cars in front of those walking, and a third car behind them, the crowd marched down Knox Street.
Many walking along the route sang spirituals on their way to Court Square. As they approached the courthouse, several sang the song “We Shall Overcome,” a favorite during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.
As they sang and came towards the two doors of the courthouse, Barbourville Mayor David Thompson and Knox County Clerk Mike Corey widely opened the doors for them and welcomed them inside to the Circuit Court Room, where the program would be held.
Many of those walking thanked Corey and Thompson as they walked in.
“We’ve come this far, we can’t turn around,” said a woman as she entered the doorway.
The singing continued as they went to their seats, as the clock struck 12 noon.
Farmer thanked the community, the churches, and the schools for turning out to the event.
“Yes, we couldn’t have done it without people of faith,” she said.
When asked where they came from, the audience responded, with several coming from Barbourville, Corbin, Pineville, Harlan, and even Frankfort.
Then, Farmer quoted a line from Dr. King — “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
There were awards to be given out to two persons involved with the commemorative celebration’s poster contest. With their posters with them, both the 1st Place winner, Mason Logan; and Sarah Emily Pederson, who got Honorable Mention, were also recognized for their creative efforts.
Both Logan and Pederson are 6th Graders at Barbourville Elementary School.
With the Knox Central High School Chamber Choir under Mr. Eddie Campbell’s direction, the choir led the audience in the singing of two songs.
“The Star Spangled Banner” came first, followed by “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The courtroom filled with the voices from both the choir up front, as well as those in the back.
“They sound so as if one voice blended,” said Farmer.
While she wasn’t listed on the program, Erma Gall of the Lend-a-Hand Center at Stinking Creek was invited to speak first.
“I am one of the very few who joined hands with Dr. King during a training session. I went to a roommate’s home in Selma, Alabama in 1954. I learned what ‘whites only’ meant. My roommate married Andrew Young (who worked in voter registration with Dr. King, and later became Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, a U.S. Congressman, and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations),” she told the audience.
Gall was involved in voter registration, and worked with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the heart of the civil rights era.
“I learned that if we could register to vote, go vote and be responsible, you solve a lot of problems. In the 50s and early 60s, Dr. King’s team got people out to register to voter registration and pursue their education.”
Gall added there were times there were dangers along the way. One instance involved herself.
“I didn’t know at the the time there was a bounty on my head,” she stated.
Gall closed her comments by saying, “Dr. King and I believed in non-violence. We wanted to solve problems in a non-violent way. …We will work together to overcome.”
Joella Davis spoke next. As President of Women of Vision — a Christian service organization dedicated to bettering the lives of women in the Barbourville community — she spoke briefly about the problems and bringing dignity back to those who need a healing hand.
“We believe in people being human beings. The next generation has no life in Barbourville, because of problems like drugs. We want to help them. Everybody’s a human being. The labels are man-made. … It makes me feel real good to be a part of this. It’s come a long way,” Davis noted.
It was Rev. Charlie Douglas of Barbourville that told the audience, “This is such a great turnout. You should be proud of yourselves.”
He recalled during his 68 years of life, he met four very important people.
“One was Marion Mitchell Morrison. You know him as ‘The Duke’ (actor John Wayne). There was also Richard Milhous Nixon (37th President of the United States), Mother Teresa, and, when I was younger, Dr. Martin Luther King. He walked up, and shook my hand, and said, ‘Thank you, son. Thank you,’” said Douglas, a retired District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church.
He finished his comments by reminding those listening, “A person is a person, no matter how small. A person is a person, no matter how black. A person is a person, no matter how white. Or Muslim, or Christian. …I hope that you have a dream, because we are one. Our nation needs to be one. There is no place in the kingdom of God for prejudice.”
It was Rev. David Miller, Campus Minister at Union College, who recalled what he learned working in the ministry at a church in the Central Kentucky city of Cynthiana. He talked about Dr. King’s training people to prepare to meet the threats that were a part of his life in the 50s and 60s. He closed by saying, “Thank God for what Dr. Martin Luther King did in the past, and what others are doing now for the future.”
Rev. Andrew Baskins was the last guest speaker during the segment known in the program as “The Dream: 50 Years Later.”
Along with his work pastoring the church in Flat Lick, Rev. Baskins is also the Program Chair of African and African American Studies at Berea College. He also is Co-Editor of the Griot: The Journal of African American Studies, and serves as Moderator of the London District Association.
He told those attending that Dr. King “left us with a legacy that secured a promise for us all.”
“Many of you now don’t remember what it was like to be unequal. The separate bathrooms, the separate water fountains. He fought to abolish that all. He fought for equal freedom. Dr. King challenged America. It increased hatred, but he would not allow that hatred to muddy his message. He forced America to look into the mirror and look at bigotry. Forty-six years later, he was a leader, and he achieved greatness,” said Rev. Baskins.
He ended with reading part of a sermon Dr. King gave in 1968 at his church in Atlanta.
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to lead behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind,” Rev. Baskins quoted.
Afterwards, Farmer said of the celebration, “The message was there. It was beyond anything I’d ever imagined. This was a community project. Everybody was on board. We’ll do it again next year.”
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