Martin Luther King Day serves as call for action, improvement

Beaufort parade, Hilton Head celebration honor civil rights leader's legacy

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 21, 2013 

Lavon Stevens wanted people to sing during Monday's Hilton Head Island Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Weekend Celebration event, but his words also were a call to action.

"We don't need a lot of us; we just need a few of us to do the right thing," the musical director of First Presbyterian Church told the crowd of more than 250 people at Hilton Head Island High School.

The Hilton Head Island event was part of a celebration that began Thursday. Across Beaufort County, residents gathered Monday to pay tribute to the civil rights leader through parade, song, dance, speech and food.

"We're celebrating Martin Luther King because this is our day," Henry Lawton said as he took up post by the Beaufort County Federal Courthouse on Bay Street to watch the annual parade through downtown Beaufort. "This is our culture we're celebrating, and how he used to fight for our rights."

Lawton's 4-year-old granddaughter was in the parade representing her school, James J. Davis Early Childhood Education Center. He is glad the parade tradition continues, but he wishes more service activities could be arranged to honor King's memory and the community.

Hilton Head Island Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration planning committee on Hilton Head Island had a service day Saturday as part of weekend celebration. The capstone was Monday's service at the high school.

"What (King's) true defining characteristic was, and what gave him the strength he had, that was his faith," Mayor Drew Laughlin said. "... It gave him the moral clarity to see what was right and gave him the courage to do what was right."

When keynote speaker James L. Felder, author of "Civil Rights in South Carolina: From Peaceful Protests to Groundbreaking Rulings," first came to Hilton Head in 1968, only eight elected black officials served in South Carolina. Today, there are 928, he said. He spoke about his military service -- which included burying President John F. Kennedy, an experience he wrote a book about -- and his involvement with the civil rights movement growing up in the south.

As a college student in 1960, Felder and others met with King and convinced him to march with them. That sit-in, at Rich's department store in Atlanta, led to one of King's 30 or so arrests.

"He had a made-up mind, and a made-up mind is the most powerful thing in the world, good or bad," Felder said.

Felder acknowledged much progress in race relations but said problems exist that King would have fought against -- violence in schools, disrespectful children, young black men more likely to go to prison than to college, wars abroad.

Angela Bryant, a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Committee in Bluffton, says the day is an opportunity to teach children about the past strive toward a better future.

"We have to get together as a people, not as a race, but as one people and look to where we're going," she said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

Related content:

Martin Luther King Jr., presidential inauguration celebrations planned in Beaufort County, Jan. 16, 2013

Celebrations honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned throughout Beaufort County, Jan. 11, 2013

Beaufort County MLK celebrations keep children as prime focus, Jan. 17, 2013

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