Dozens of community members – up to 200 by one estimate – helped honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy Saturday in Wilson County’s Commemorative Unity March.
“This is our second year for the march, and this is our fifth year for our brunch and honoring our clergy and sanitation workers,” said Mary Harris with the Roy Bailey African American History Center and Museum.
The Unity March, which is organized by the Roy Bailey African American History Center and Museum, paid homage to the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech advocating racial harmony.
Wilson County Commissioner Annette Stafford, who along with County Mayor Randall Hutto, Harris and others who helped revive the march last year, said she was pleased with the turnout Saturday, but she hoped even more would come out in the coming years.
“I would love to see more people come out to commemorate what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for and all of the struggles that went on,” said Stafford. “A lot of people think that the struggle only went on in Memphis or Chicago or Detroit – there was struggle right here in Wilson County, as well.”
Participants in Saturday’s event learned about some of that struggle.
A city dump truck led marchers from the Cedars of Lebanon Primitive Baptist Church – former headquarters of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Taskforce – through historic areas of the city’s African American community.
The route for the march included C.L. Manier Street, McGregor Street, Highway 70, East Main Street at the Square and continued back to Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church.
“For me, the highlight is probably when you’re walking through the town with the speaker going through the front [of the truck]. You hear his voice and you hear some of the stories that are told on the different buildings,” said Hutto.
Organizers also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the life of recently deceased South African President Nelson Mandela.
Craighead said events such as the Unity March help highlight how society has changed since the 1960s.
“More than anything it just shows how far we have come over the years compared to the way things were in the past,” said Craighead. “I just shows how far our society has come in recognizing the importance of everybody.”
Harris said it helps younger generations understand and remember.
“I feel if we don’t keep it in the eyes of our young people, that it will be forgotten and it’s too important to not live on for future generations to know some of the things that have happened to give them the opportunities that are open to them now,” said Harris.
“There were several people who remembered from back then, but so many young people today don’t really truly understand the impact that Dr. Martin Luther King made on little ole’ small Wilson County,” said Stafford.