Near-freezing temperatures didn’t stop hundreds from marching Saturday in the streets of Columbus and Phenix City to remember the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Two days before the nation recognizes the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, about 700 people converged on the Liberty Theatre in Columbus at noon for the fifth annual The Dream Lives tribute, while more than three dozen marched with the Community of Concerned Clergy down Broad Street across the Chattahoochee River.
“It is important that we come together as a community to celebrate and have this festival atmosphere to learn just a little bit about how far we have come,” Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said as she looked out among the diverse crowd with young people holding signs, “The Dream Lives” and “I am the Dream.”
The mayor said folks like those gathered wanted to do something that really honored the legacy of King and made sure people passed it down to generations that didn’t know him. “That is what you see today with these young folks here,” she said.
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The event was sponsored by the Mayor’s Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity. Ruthie Foster, an award-winning performer from Texas, played songs with a mix of blues, some folk, soul, rock and gospel.
Near the stage stood Mona Maddox, 62, and her 13-year-old granddaughter Bennett Stoltz of Columbus. Maddox was holding a sign that said “Forward Ever, Backward Never.” The sign was on a church during the civil rights march in Selma, Ala., with King and John Lewis.
“I thought this sign was particularly appropriate, because of the administration trying to take us back to the dark ages, building a wall,” Maddox said of President Trump’s plan on a wall at the border of Mexico. “I mean, we took down the wall in Germany in Berlin. I think it’s a man just backwards. I think we will definitely overcome.”
Linda Brantley Skanes, 55, of Columbus said she loves the event every year. It brings back memories because she named her son after King and President John Kennedy as Kennedy Luther Brantley, whose birthday is Monday.
There is still work to do in the community, she said. “We need to get together and quit killing people,” she said.
William Thomas of Columbus said he thinks the nation is more unified from King’s legacy. “I think we’ve come a long way,” he said. “There will never be a perfect situation, but there will always be something.”
After singing several favorites like “Richland Woman Blues,” and “Mama Said,” Foster closed the event singing a capella. At the time, she said the musicians with her could barely feel their fingers.
At the Russell County Courthouse, the Rev. Noble Williams of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church said the parade on Broad Street was to remember the past. “I hope it will stimulate us,” he said. “Hopefully, it will catch on and continue.”
Annie Lewis of We Can Ministries said she’s excited about the gathering and the message to young people. “We want to sent a message to them so they can carry on that legacy,” she said.
Rev. Robert Battle of Morning Glory Ministries of Phenix City said people have to stand and let the community know that there is a struggle. “Still though, we are stronger than our struggle,” he said. “We just have to get a little deeper.”
As a veteran with 26 years of military service, Battle said he understands what the commander in chief stands for, and the struggle never stops.
“When he is in error, we have to continue to do the right thing,” he said. “We are here to do the right thing. The right thing is to march, show unity and to continue to commemorate what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has done in the past.”