Residents all over Beaufort County sought to embody Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of the "beloved community" Monday by gathering to celebrate the values the civil rights leader lived and died for.
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 Hilton Head Island High School parking lot, Beaufort County schools superintendent Valerie Truesdale delivered the keynote address in the school's Visual and Performing Arts Center as a slideshow of King played behind her.
Truesdale spoke about her experience growing up in Columbia, where her mother was a teacher and principal, amid the turmoil of desegregation.
She said she served as the "token white kid" on a desegregation committee and the early experience gave her a commitment to ensuring equal access to education for all.
Re-reading King's Letter from Birmingham Jail inspired Truesdale to ask the audience to "look anew to make sure each and every one of God's children has an opportunity for education and growth."
Monday afternoon at a packed Bluffton Town Hall, the audience was treated to skits and songs by local youth groups and the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club, followed by a parade winding through old town.
In Beaufort, Beaufort County Board of Education chairman Fred Washington Jr. was the keynote speaker, challenging the audience to create the community of which King dreamed.
The parade and service at the University of South Carolina Beaufort capped several days of celebration with the theme of "Working Together to Achieve Success," sponsored by the Beaufort County Ministerial Alliance of 27 churches.
Alliance president and Lady's Island Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Sam Spain said Washington's speech delivered a "tremendous wake-up call that challenged the Beaufort community and the county to be a community and to serve as one" by getting involved in education, politics and entrepreneurship.
"We need to wake up to the challenges of bringing about a better place, a better place where we can all live in safety," Spain said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/lcblotter.
Events Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Jan. 14, 2012