April 4, 1968.
Many readers remember exactly where they were and what they were doing that day when word came of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn.
The Lakelands is deeply rooted in the South and on that day in 1968, whether we care to admit it, there were those who celebrated — some quietly, some openly — the slaying of the iconic civil rights leader. Even here, where King's longtime mentor, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, was born, racism's roots were strong and deep.
The black men and women living and working in the Lakelands mourned with the rest of the nation's blacks. Aside from their abiding faith in God, King was their hope, their savior who would help them shed the vestiges of slavery that existed in the manner in which they were treated. Though free, blacks remained enslaved by unequal treatment, continued abuse and even hatred.
Every year since 1986, when the third Monday in January was established in honor of King, people have come together to celebrate King's cause, his message, his influence.
Here in the Lakelands, celebrations took place this weekend and will continue Monday. Moreover, there is much more to be celebrated. While hardly perfect, race relations vastly improved in our area. As noted in Saturday's Viewpoints, a black county council chairman and a white city mayor came together in an effort to create unity by organizing an effort to clean up a cemetery on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was not so many years ago, we should recall, admit and know, that would not have happened. Not in Greenwood, not in McCormick, not in Saluda and certainly not in Abbeville.
Government offices will be closed Monday in recognition of the King holiday. People will shop, do odds and ends around the yard or house and whatever else they typically do with an extra day off work. But many will also take time, if they have not already done so on the weekend, to participate in a march or a rally. They will reflect on the impact a 39-year-old black minister from the South had on their lives, and they will share that with their children and their grandchildren. They will also wonder what further impact King would or could have had on their lives and on the civil rights movement had he lived well beyond those 39 years.
King's life was indeed cut short and no one can know how different things would be today had he lived many years longer, but that does not mean we cannot and should not acknowledge and celebrate the impact he did have, even here in the Lakelands where we have witnessed much of King's dream come true.
To do more than merely witness this, participate by attending the march that will begin at the Greenwood County Courthouse steps at 10 a.m. Monday. There you will see whites and blacks joining hands and celebrating not what makes them different, but rather what makes them unified.