Manteo event celebrates King's courage and perseverance
Speaking at the 28th annual Dare County Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 12, Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard honored the civil rights champion's vision, courage and indomitable perseverance.
"He awoke the American conscience,” Woodard declared. “He opened blind eyes to grave injustices. He fought against so many obstacles, [creating] the moral consensus that led to the Voting Rights Act, our nation's blueprint for freedom and equality...We honor Dr. King for his dream and his passion."
Woodard was introduced by the event's organizer, Michael Lewis, who took over the planning and preparation from his parents, Ruth and Clarence Lewis, who served as the Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Committee Chairs for 27 years.
"Years ago, when this program was started, there was nothing for African Americans in Dare County. And the program was born," Lewis recalled. Expressing his gratitude for the community support through the years that has kept the program alive, "and kept the dream alive," Lewis said this year marked an effort "to make the program as diverse as possible, just as Dr. King would have."
As part of the event at the Dare County Center in Manteo, George Lurie, lay leader of the Jewish Community of the Outer Banks, read verses focusing on seeking God's peace and justice from Psalm 46, Deuteronomy 16 and Psalm 101.
Musical selections were presented by the Echoes of Heritage and Source Church's Robert Flowers. A highlight of the program was the recitation by four-year-old Promise Armstrong from Creswell of Rev. William Holmes Borders' poem, "I am somebody."
At the end of the program, before gathering for a fellowship meal, the audience formed a circle around the auditorium, joined hands and sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
During his remarks, Woodard reviewed the courage and perseverance that marked a month-long series of marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 in the face of brutal acts of violence by the Ku Klux Klan, sheriff's deputies and Alabama State Troopers.
During the infamous Bloody Sunday police attack with tear gas and billy clubs that resulted in 16 marchers being hospitalized, he recounted that, "King called for volunteers throughout the entire nation to come to Selma for another march." Noting the sheer scale of violence and King's call for two more marches, Woodard said: "The Reverend don't give up!"
At the conclusion of a five-day march on March 25, 1965, Woodard said, King delivered his "Our God is marching on" speech on the steps of the state capitol of Alabama. The speech is also known as the "How long, not long" speech. The speech and the marches directly paved the way for Congress's passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act that August.
His voice rising in tribute to King, Woodard quoted his words: "However difficult this moment, however frustrating this hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever."
While acknowledging the civil rights progress in the decades since those turbulent days, Woodard also declared that, "We still have further to go to reach the Promised Land of racial harmony, equality and opportunity. Our work is far from done."