Photos by Sue Watson
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day panel included, from left, Mozell Kelley, Paul Lampley, Johnquail Lyons, Ejeera Dukes, Bishop Robert Davis, Rosie Ladd, Gary Anderson and Marketta Liggins Steward.
Photo by Sue Watson
Rust College NAACP Chapter members are, from left, Shamyiah Hudson, Emmaja Hancock, Jarquon Lowe, Raveen Carter, Johnquail Lyons and Abreshia Davis.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Byhalia resident and county consultant Gary Anderson provided the keynote address at the 32nd Annual Commemoration of the Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
He took a glance backward, reviewed positive accomplishments in civil rights in the United States, then commented on what needs to be done to improve the climate in Marshall County for the good.
Unemployment, crime and poverty rates are three things the local community needs to work on today, he said.
The movement to get a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. was begun and worked for by Stevie Wonder, he said.
“We grew up with a picture of Jesus, President Kennedy and Martin Luther King on the wall,” Anderson said.
After recognizing elected officials, including supervisors George Zinn and Charles Terry and Sen. Bill Stone, Anderson recognized Lela Hale, newly elected superintendent of education in Marshall County. Education was part of the theme.
“We have lots of challenges,” he said. “I’m betting on Lela Hale. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
“Where we are in this community, this county…I thank the Lord for being here. Year 2016 was kind of a weird year. A lot of crazy things were going on. We don’t know how things will turn out in 2017.
“As African Americans, we have always had the church. Despite the struggles, the tragedies we’ve faced, we have a history of faith in the Lord. We have come this far by faith…He’s never failed us yet.”
Living by faith, “We don’t have to worry what Donald Trump is going to do,” he said. “Our hope should be in the Lord, not a Donald Trump government. Our hope also needs to be in you and me. When we have our act together, there will be nothing we cannot accomplish as a race of people.”
The NAACP created opportunities for liberty and freedom for blacks as American citizens and as citizens of Marshall County.
“Yes, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and the 13th and 14th Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution), gave us full citizenship – before the backlash hit us,” Anderson said. “There were some whites who felt we were not their equals and they did not consider us full U.S. citizens. These people hated the U.S. government for giving us that, especially here in the South.”
It was at the turn of the century that Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Dubois founded the NAACP in 1909. Among the founders there were many more whites than blacks, Anderson said. Together they fought Jim Crow laws that denied blacks the right to vote or to enjoy full citizenship.
“We owe this organization for the progress we have made as a race of people – a progress born out of blood, sweat and tears,” he said.
June 11, 1963, Martin Luther King was sitting in an Alabama jail writing a letter. Many blacks had to go to the back door of lunch counters to pick up a meal because they were not allowed to enter the front door.
King had been arrested for a sit-in in Birmingham. He was pushing President John Kennedy to do something about civil rights, and the NAACP was planning a march on Washington, D.C., in August.
King’s letter was entitled, “Why We Can’t Wait.”
That morning, Kennedy was set to make the commencement speech at the University of Virginia. Kennedy made his speech on civil rights, saying racism weakens our nation and the U.S. Constitution could not take a high moral ground and at the same time deny African Americans their rights, Anderson said.
“The story did not end there. That evening Medgar Evers met with NAACP members and talked about the President’s speech about a Civil Rights Bill. Evers was assassinated in his driveway that night. King presided over Evers’ funeral in Jackson. The demonstration on Washington took place in August. But the Civil Rights Bill stalled in Congress.”
Afterward, President John F. Kennedy and his brother, former attorney general Robert Kennedy, were assassinated and then King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
“Yes, our struggle has been filled with blood, sweat and tears,” Anderson said. “But there have been so many successes that come from preparation and opportunity.”
He cited how blacks now dominate sports and entertainment and there are black billionaires like Oprah Winfrey, born in Kosciusko, media mogul, T.V. host, actress, producer and philanthropist, whose net worth was estimated to be $3.2 billion in June 2016.
Anderson said a billionaire class is quickly emerging in the African American community. They excel in cosmetics, credit cards, scientists, and in the military.
Many cities have a street dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. There are many black mayors in America.
“We have Colin Powell and President Barack Obama,” he said.
Although blacks have a long way to go to be fully accepted based upon their character, as a class they have made tremendous progress, Anderson said.
As 44th President, Obama had “everything thrown at him but has never wavered,” Anderson said. “There have been no scandals. He continues to be loved and admired by the majority of the citizens of the United States.”
He said the black community needs to continue to put “our future in God’s hands. We need to have our community more focused. It is not time to go to sleep.”
Anderson said the black community is not where it should be in educational attainment in Marshall County.
“We’ve got to work on that,” he said. “The challenges we face are all over. We ask God to put a spirit of love, a spirit of trust in one another in our community,” he said. “It will be God who will take us there. Let’s depend on God, not government. Too many of us are being impacted in our community by crime.”
He said too many blacks do not have employment skills. Too many cannot pass a drug test required as a condition for employment. Incidents of violence are being settled with a gun. Families are involved, so many people are impacted, he said.
“We’ve got to deal with it,” Anderson said.
The U.S. ranks 30th in education in the world.
“We have engaged in a process of dumbing down,” he said. “We can’t continue to be an ecumenic power with a third-world educational system. We’ve got to do something ourselves. We have to make things better.”
Byhalia High School is being taken on as a project by its alumni. A Wall of Fame is being designed for those who score 25 or more on the ACT. Three students have qualified this year. Those who missed it want to take the test again.
Ministers and alumni say they cannot stand by and watch the school fail, he said.
He said there is an attack on education in Mississippi and the nation.
“They are looking at how they can remove the MAEP formula,” he said. “Brace yourselves for a hit. Senator (Bill Stone), roll up your sleeves. You are in a battle ground. We should care. We are a part of this community. Let’s play it smart when it comes to education. It is a community problem. People judge your community by how well you support education. Insurance companies will set your rates based on where you live and what is happening in your community.
“We know our kids are susceptible to crime and they will be locked in to low-skilled jobs. We should elect people who are concerned about us. We need to close the income gap. Let’s get more focused. Let’s handle our responsibility. Yes, we can.”