King’s life celebrated Monday

Citizens march down Water Street Monday morning in a parade celebrating the 26th observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

Local citizens and community leaders celebrated the 26th observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday on Monday.

They marked the occasion with words, music, a march and gatherings at the Decatur County Courthouse, Pilgrim’s Rest Missionary Baptist Church and the historic Hutto Middle School.

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Dr. Larry Clark, a longtime educator and coach, spoke of the importance of MLK Jr. Day at a memorial service for the late civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1968.

“It isn’t just a day to be out of school, nor it is a day to be off from work,” Dr. Clark said. “It is a time in which we are reminded to celebrate his life and his message of love, acceptance and equality. Dr. King has been dead longer than he lived. But he lived an extraordinary life.”

Decatur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield, the keynote speaker at Monday’s memorial service, said Dr. King’s impact was legendary.

“Many radio and television stations pay tribute to King on this day by rebroadcasting his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” Dr. Rayfield said. “I believe it is one of the rare public addresses in which the power of God can be heard in its cadence and call to action.”

Decatur County Commissioner Frank Loeffler, who spoke briefly at the memorial service, said King had “more words of wisdom than any man I’ve ever known.”

“[King] knew that if this country kept on the path we were on, that we were headed for ruin,” Loeffler said. “He accepted the burden of speaking up and pointing out all of the wrongs that he saw in society.”

Rev. Henry Flowers III, the pastor of First African Baptist Church in Bainbridge, recited part of a prayer Dr. King once said: “May all who suffer oppression in this world reject the self-defeating method of retaliatory violence and choose the method that seeks to redeem.”

To Flowers, that quote represents one of the core beliefs of Dr. King and the pastor encouraged the audience to work toward “justice, peace and equality” so that King’s mission would not be in vain.


Monday’s events

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The day began with a small parade from the Decatur County Courthouse on Water Street to MLK Jr. Drive. The parade featured local civic groups, the percussion section from the Bainbridge High School band. Local government leaders spoke at an opening ceremony at the courthouse prior to the parade. The Potter Street Elementary School Honor Chorus also performed several spirituals.

At 11:45 a.m., approximately 300 to 400 people gathered in the gymnasium at Hutto Middle School on MLK Jr. Drive in Bainbridge for a memorial service. Interspersed between speeches from local dignitaries and clergymen were performances by gospel singer Karen Washington, the Hutto Middle School Chorus, a solo by Dr. Dianne-Robinson Smith and a lyrical dance by the Greater Macedonia M.B. Church’s youth praise team. The service concluded with everyone singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Mrs. Pauline Love-Gaines, who taught in Decatur County Schools from 1952 until 1998, was the grand marshal of the MLK Jr. Day parade.

Other speakers at the memorial service included Rev. Eric D. Collins, Rev. J. Hunter, Hutto Middle School Principal Roy C. Matthews, Decatur County Commissioner Dr. Charles Stafford and Decatur County NAACP President William Ross.

Rayfield’s speech

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Rayfield said Dr. King was “a man of character” who embodied the spirit of service to community and others and in King’s own words, was interested in the “power that is moral, right and good.”

“Our obligation—all of us—is to make sure that young people understand the importance of character, making good decisions and conducting good business, in order to be successful,” Rayfield said.

Rayfield said King also valued equality; to illustrate his point, the superintendent quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all to live in.”

King also placed a high value on education, Rayfield said.

“Dr. King believed in the positive effects of a good education and believed helping everyone attain an education was a necessity for a successful community,” he said.

Toward the end of his address, Rayfield talked about King’s passion for community service.

“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve,” Rayfield quoted King as saying. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Rayfield was introduced by Bainbridge High School student Devin Thompson.

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