Nearly 51 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., King's words and work remain as compelling and relevant as ever.
That was one of the messages received by the nearly 200 people gathered Monday at the Performing Arts Center to celebrate the birthday of the slain civil rights leader. King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, while preparing to lead a march of striking sanitation workers.
Keynote speaker Mike Anderson asked the racially diverse crowd whether they wanted chaos or community. “That is where we are right now,” he said at Palestine's main event for the King holiday. “It takes only one man (to make a change).”
He recalled the night King died, but acknowledged he didn't know the significance of the assassination. His mother told him to keep the front door locked, and to not open it for anyone. Even so, he ventured outside and saw the rioting. Anderson was only two miles from where King was assassinated.
As he lay in bed with two of his younger siblings, he started to wonder if he had locked the front door. When he opened his eyes, he thought he saw a white guy with a straw hat standing in the hallway.
The white guy in the hallway turned out to be a water heater. Suffocating from fear, he urinated on himself. He felt the near-terror MLK faced every day for fighting for equality.
Don't allow fear, Anderson told the audience, to paralyze you as it paralyzed him that night. “What are we doing with each other?” Anderson asked. “What do we see when we see each other? We are not animals. It's symbolic.”
King was jailed 29 times – once for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.
Rodney Howard and two other men sued Anderson County in 1974, and Palestine in 1976, to get proportionate representation on the county commission and city council. They were in the U.S. Army when MLK was killed.
“It's all right to get angry, just not mad,” Howard said. He stresses to children the importance of getting involved, as he and his two friends did in the 1970s.
The county lawsuit created a precinct where many African-Americans live. It is now occupied by Rashad Mims, the sole African American on the four-member county commission.
In the successful lawsuit against the city, two districts were created where most residents were African-American. Those two seats now are occupied by Mitchell Jordan and Vickey Chivers..
“We need to get involved in the political process to make sure this progress continues,” Howard said.
City Manager Michael Hornes attended the meeting with his family. “This is a special, special day,” Hornes said.
King was killed at the the age of 39 – the same age Hornes is now. “He did more in 39 years than I could possibly do in a lifetime,” he said. “That was an amazing man, and there are a lot of amazing people in this room today.”
Mayor Steve Presley read a proclamation from him and the council in naming Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Day, saying the civil rights leader changed the entire nation.
Police Chief Andy Harvey had a simple comment: “We are you, and you are us.”
Warren Roberts, minister of the South Jackson Church of Christ, was the master of ceremonies for the event.
“(King) was one of the best servants this world has ever seen,” Roberts said. “What are you doing for others? Physically we can't see him, but his legacy lives on.
“We are here on a mission. We are here to honor Martin Luther King.”
The Palestine High School choir and drum line performed separately at the event. A praise dance was also performed by a few members of the Antioch Church.
Before the event, organizers put on a parade that was sparsely attended. The parade lasted no more than eight minutes. Presley, who rode in the parade, said he was disappointed by the turnout.
Destiny Church placed first; South Union Baptist Church earned runner-up honors, and The Sickle Cell organization took third-place in the parade competition.