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Celebrating Martin Luther King

By Scott Cissel January 21, 2003

As a testimony to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s lasting legacy, 40 years after his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., hundreds of marchers gathered in Leesburg Monday to honor the life of the slain civil rights leader.
"I witnessed in the south ... that something like this you couldn't do," said marcher Weaver Samuel. "I'm here to show my kids that times have changed."

Under a mostly sunny sky punctuated with snow flurries and cold winds, he and other marchers walked a mile and a half from the old Loudoun County Courthouse to the Douglass Community Center, where they joined a crowd waiting to begin an afternoon of song and reflection.

The 11th annual march, titled "The Dream -- Keep It Real," drew members of Grace Annex United Methodist Church of Purcellville, Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church of Aldie, First Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Leesburg and the Loudoun Baha'i community.

Drummers from Loudoun County High School's Marching Raiders led the procession.

For many marchers, the day was a time to remember Dr. King, the Atlanta minister who was imprisoned and saw his family terrorized during his struggle to end discrimination against people of color. He was assassinated in 1968.

The day also was a time to remember this country's brutal history of segregation -- which barred black Americans from schools, jobs, restaurants and social services -- and King's dream of racial unity that helped change the nation.

"It's a way of personally keeping the dream alive," said Lou Etta Watkins, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "A dream is always for something better -- sometimes it's about something that seems impossible, but if you work at it, it becomes fruitful -- it's like working in a garden."

For others the celebration was a chance to teach young people about King and to express the need for continued vigilance against racism.

"It's important for younger people to realize the benefits that came out of King's dream," said Arnold Ambers, Douglass Alumni Association president. "A lot of rights they take for granted."

Ambers, a 1960 graduate of Douglass, a former high school built by the efforts of black residents, said students in the 1950s couldn't even eat a meal at a nearby restaurant on Route 7.

"We had a hard fight," said Ambers. "As many people as there are that fight for freedom, there are still as many people who are against it.

"It's good to see Leesburg is striving to keep freedom in the forefront," he added.

After a lunch of hot dogs, juice and cookies, the Rev. Charles Robinson gave an invocation that recalled King.

"He stood on the wall and let a nation know that justice is what God is seeking," said Robinson. "He went to a place where others wouldn't go and stood for Americans all alone."

The Rev. Marva Robinson, who as a young woman was told by King to "become a preacher," sang the spiritual solo, "I'm Happy Just to Know That I'm a Child."

Balls Bluff Principal Jerry Hill played the piano for a group singing of the National Negro Hymn, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and "We Shall Overcome," which was frequently sung at civil rights marches.

"It's especially encouraging to see so many young people," said NAACP President Seibert Murphy. "It is so important that the legacy be passed on ... and get into the ears of the young -- the fight against racism is not over."

The event's guest speaker, Alice McGill, re-enacted the character of Sojourner Truth, the 19th century abolitionist and former slave who became renowned for her fight for freedom and women's rights.

Wearing a dress and white bonnet authentic to the era, McGill expressed the vehement conviction of Sojourner Truth's fight against slavery.

With bitter humor she told of an encounter with a racist, who said, "I don't care any more about the rights of the Negro than the bite of a flea."

She replied, "Maybe not, but if God is willing, I will keep you scratching."

©Copyright 2003, Loudoun Times-Mirror (VA, USA)

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