VIDEO: Civil rights leader's message still resonates, Beaufort County residents say

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 20, 2014 

  • Parade and closing ceremony in Beaufort to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr (1:18)

    Sam Spain with the Beaufort County Ministerial Alliance talks Jan. 20, 2014, about the importance of holding a community event every year to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Delayna Earley

    MLK Day in Bluffton (:41)

    During festivities Jan. 20, 2014, Anne Cooke, president of the town's Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, explains the meaning of the civil rights leader's message more than 45 years after his death. Dan Burley

Beaufort County celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, as residents reflected on what they see as the civil rights leader's still-relevant fight for equality.

Events on Hilton Head Island, in Bluffton and in Beaufort drew hundreds of people for parades, songs, speeches and cookouts in honor of King's birthday.

After a memorial march in the parking lot of Hilton Head Island High School, retired educator Benjamin Burns Williams delivered the keynote address to more than 200 people in the school's Seahawk Cultural Center.

Williams, a former associate superintendent of schools in Chicago, explained to the crowd that the tendency to deify King might overlook the statesman's larger point: It takes more than one to make change.

"It's good to be reminded on this day that Dr. King was a man, a human being," Williams said. "His was a unique brand of leadership, but he knew it was the army behind him that made the difference."

Williams asked the audience to carry on King's legacy by pushing for social justice in the non-violent manner the activist held dear. The fight for economic and racial equality continues, even on the local level, he said.

"Some people think of Hilton Head and imagine there's no poverty," Williams said after his speech. "That's not true. And we need to support the groups, the soup kitchens, the self-help centers that work to lift people up."

Hilton Head Island Councilman Marc Grant said the community should channel the spirit of King and help improve the northern neighborhoods that Grant represents. He called for residents to get involved in local government, church clubs and school programs.

"We still have a lot of work to do," he said. "To quote Dr. King, 'Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.' "

On Monday afternoon in Bluffton, more than a hundred packed town hall as local youth groups treated the audience to skits and songs, followed by a parade through Old Town.

Anne Cooke, who heads the town's Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, weighed in on King's legacy in today's economy.

"Keep in mind, this wasn't a black or white struggle, it was for everybody," she said. "It started as a way to get jobs for everybody. So now we are going to have to continue doing that, and create jobs in Bluffton."

In Beaufort, the Beaufort County Ministerial Alliance held its annual morning parade, which culminated with a program at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.

The Rev. Sam Spain, alliance president, said the King holiday is a yearly reminder to keep the civil rights leader's mission going.

"Our greatest challenge is to continue to show love and compassion," he said. "If we are decent and pleasing in the sight of God, then I can say we have kept his dream alive."

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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