MLK Pride March inspires unity
In the 1950s and 60s “We Shall Overcome” served as the anthem to the Civil Rights movement, but Saturday morning in Canton, it was sung once again, this time in remembrance of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who followed him in the struggle for equality.
The 6th annual Pride March in Canton takes place on the Saturday before Martin Luther King Day, and this year, about 40 participants braved the chilly weather to walk from Harris Chapel AME Zion Church to the Colonial Theater in downtown Canton.
But the cold was nothing compared to what the original Civil Rights protestors faced more than 50 years ago as they fought for equal rights for African-Americans, said Tammy McDowell, chairwoman of the Haywood County Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.
“When we think about the obstacles that others had to endure — the dogs, the rocks thrown at them and all those other bad things — it’s cold, but it’s not near as bad as what they had to endure,” she said. “We march because we’re proud, and we march to honor those who marched before us.”
The event is one that always brings people together, said the Rev. William Staley, who led the prayer before the march began.
“It has grown the last few years,” he said, adding the march is a small way to keep King’s legacy alive. “He had a dream, and it’s not for us to let that dream die. We must keep it alive.”
Once the march ended, the crowd gathered to share some of their thoughts about civil rights, equality and the need to come together to continue improving communities for the better. Among them was Canton’s mayor Michael Ray, who emphasized the need for people to keep pushing for better, and not just on MLK Day.
“We can’t change our past, but we can change our future,” he said, and then shared his favorite King quote, “‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’”
Although many people spoke of practicing fellowship more frequently than only on MLK Day, Randy McDowell said it’s important to put those thoughts into action.
“If we don’t come together as a people, we’re going to take 100 steps back. We need to quit talking and start doing,” he said, encouraging everyone to get involved in church and community.
For teacher Jean Hall, the need to teach the next generation about what came before them and how hard people fought for the rights they enjoy today is vital.
She said she asked her students what they knew about Martin Luther King, and many answered that he was the man who “freed the slaves.”
Not only is this incorrect, but Hall said it shows how much black history is neglected today.
“We need to teach them what character is and how to stand up for something that is important,” she said. “We need to come together in unity and love. We’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go.”
MLK weekend events continue with:
• Sunday, Jan. 20 — Commemorative service at 3 p.m. at The Church of God of Prophecy, in Canton. The speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Lamont Foster, pastor of Harris chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, in Canton.
• Monday, Jan. 21 — Prayer Breakfast at 8 a.m. at the Lambuth Inn dinning room, Lake Junaluska. The speaker will be Bishop Ivan Abrahams, general secretary, World Methodist Council, Lake Junaluska.
Breakfast tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for students and children and free for children 8 and under. Tickets are available at the administration building and the Bethea Welcome Center at Lake Junaluska.
For information on the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend events, call 646-0125.