About 50 people marched in Smithfield on Monday to “conjure the spirit” of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
First Missionary Baptist Church organized its first MLK Day march, followed by a worship service. The Rev. Sterling Freeman, pastor, said the congregation decided to march to help bring the community together.
The march started at Sixth and Market streets and made its way to the church at Fourth and Caswell streets. The crowd sang songs such as “I Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Jesus,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “Wade in the Water.”
“The march is much more than symbolism; it is something to prick our conscience and change us,” Freeman aid. “You marched, you walked, but what are you walking for? What are you marching for?”
At First Missionary, Freeman wants marching to turn into action as the church focuses on poverty, voting and health education. During the week leading up to MLK Day, the church held two events about voting. Last year, it held an economic-empowerment summit, and Freeman said organizers are in the early stages of launching a credit union in the county.
At the end of the march, the group gathered on the steps of the church, prayed and reflected on the day and the civil rights movement.
David Dublin Jr. of Smithfield was 13 when he attended the march on Washington, D.C., where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Dublin lived nearby, and his school sent buses so students could see and hear King.
“It was a day that I still remember vividly,” he said. “To hear it live was something I will never forget.”
Dublin became separated from his school group but said he felt safe and could feel love coming from the crowd. “I never felt lost; I never felt alone,” he said, adding that the event focused him on wanting to give back.
Patricia Chisholm-Jones, 73, of Smithfield decided to march on Monday to commemorate King. “What’s important about the march is for us to reflect,” she said. “Reflect on why he said march and march peacefully. It would also show that action speaks louder than words many times and also show unity.”
After the march, Chisholm-Jones went to Four Oaks to take part in a community-service project, also to honor King.
Maxine Hunter, 71, of Smithfield was a teen at the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. “A lot of things happened back then; it really did,” she said. “(Being) out today, it brings back memories that I really don’t ... it really just hurts.
“Here in Smithfield, I remember they had Klu Klux Klan signs, and that was really terrible.”
That’s why marching is important, Hunter said. “(I’m) honored to be blessed to still be here,” she said. “A lot of the things that he done was for us – he was for everybody; it didn’t matter what color your skin was.”
Cynthia Lee of Washington, D.C., who was visiting with Hunter, said it’s important to still honor King because of equal rights for everyone. “Black, white, Hispanic, all colors,” she said. “We as human beings.”
Lee said the long fight for civil rights would be in vain if people didn’t continue to fight for equal treatment. “Especially up in D.C., a lot of the politics and trying to do things that’s not right, we have to stand, fight for your rights,” she said.
Freeman said marching gave him two feelings. “There’s a sense in which it feels really good and empowering to be doing it in community, with our seniors and with our young folks,” he said.
“On the other side, it’s very sobering and also kind of scary in the sense that our intention is to never make light of that history in which so many people directly endured when they marched and they protested and that sort of thing,” he said. “At the same time that I’m feeling this feeling of satisfaction, I’m also feeling challenges around what is the modern-day movement. ...What are we called to do today?”