Originally created 01/18/00

King celebrations stress unity



Part of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream played out Monday in Augusta as men, women and children -- black, white, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian and other denominations -- set aside differences to honor the slain civil rights leader and Baptist minister.

"Reality in motion; reality in action. Seeing the reality come of what the dreamer dreamed years ago -- different creeds, different organizations, different families in one setting and agreeing to be here together," state Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, said in describing the afternoon as he looked across the sanctuary at First Baptist Church of Augusta.

More than 1,600 people attended the sixth annual memorial service sponsored by the Martin Luther King Memorial CSRA Observance Committee, New Hope Community Center, First Baptist Church of Augusta and Celebrate 2000 partners including The Augusta Chronicle, WRDW TV, WFXA, WGAC and the cities of Augusta and North Augusta.

"Isn't it wonderful that Augusta, Ga., could truly, truly be known as a place which brought forth unity?" said Whole Life Ministries pastor Sandra Kennedy, who presided over the service.

The church has seating for about 1,350. Chairs lined the aisles and rear of the sanctuary. Many sat in the foyer and listened through open doors as community leaders and pastors extolled the memory of Dr. King and his work.

"He's not a black hero; he's not a white hero; he's not a Hispanic hero; he's an American hero," said the keynote speaker, the Rev. Marlin D. Harris, pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.

Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn.

The Rev. Harris spoke of keeping dreams alive. While Dr. King's dream -- articulated in the slain leader's 1960s I Have a Dream speech -- has been fulfilled in some areas with legislation outlawing racial segregation and "separate but equal" rules, there is still much work to be done, said soul singer James Brown, who attended the event and sang That Lucky Old Sun.

"We've got to put God first," said Mr. Brown, also known as the Godfather of Soul, who received an NAACP award from Alexander Smith, president of the national civil-rights organization's Augusta branch.

Ending hate and violence and making streets safe won't come by legislation, said Augusta's U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood. It comes from brotherly love, which Dr. King preached, the congressman said.

"Let us not forget first and foremost he was a minister of the gospel," Mr. Norwood said.

The message of Christ and his love was the afternoon service's second theme.

"We have hope for our culture because of Him," the Rev. Harris said. "We have many heroes; Jesus Christ is our hero."

Dr. King was remembered at other area celebrations.

In Aiken, newly promoted Army Brig. Gen. Velma L. "Von" Richardson spoke about Dr. King's legacy to hundreds at an event held by Aiken Technical College and University of South Carolina Aiken.

Most people said they turned out to remember Dr. King and to meet another great role model. Brig. Gen. Richardson joined a select group Friday of only five black women who have achieved the rank of brigadier general in U.S. military history.

"She is such an inspiration to me," said Charron Jones, an Army sergeant at Fort Gordon. "I really wanted to be a part of this event."

The promotion makes Brig. Gen. Richardson deputy commander and assistant commandant of Fort Gordon as well as the second-highest ranking officer at the U.S. Army Signal Center.

Standing in front of a portrait of a smiling Dr. King projected on a screen, she told the audience, "It's wonderful to have a dream, but you have to work the dream until it happens."

Although Dr. King was killed before they were born, Aiken Tech freshmen Francina Knight and Felicia Jackson said it was important to them to remember him for his accomplishments.

They said they are fortunate to have Brig. Gen. Richardson to look up to. When she was growing up, Brig. Gen. Richardson saw Dr. King as a role model.

"I'm not sure exactly where I was when I heard of his death," Brig. Gen. Richardson said. "But I remember feeling very sick the day he died.

"My feeling was that hope would die as well," she added. "But his lessons have hung around, and America is growing because of them."

Staff Writer Katie Throne contributed to this article.

Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at (803) 441-6927.