By MICAH HENRY
Clergy, community leaders, and youth encouraged all to work together to improve Alexander County during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial celebration held Monday, January 16, 2023, at Macedonia Baptist Church on NC 90 East in Taylorsville.
Ms. Helen Chestnut served as Mistress of Ceremonies. The congregation joined in singing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” followed by a Scripture reading from Psalm 46:1-6 by Mrs. Ann Howard.
Rev. Scott Henson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylorsville, led the opening prayer, echoing Dr. King’s words that remind “the church is not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state; it must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool.”
Ms. Chestnut then recognized elected officials, who greeted the audience. These included Mayor George Holleman, Alexander County Commissioner Larry Yoder, and Alexander County Sheriff Chad Pennell.
Mayor Holleman said, “Today, we’re reflecting on Dr. King’s legacy of equality and social justice, a day designated by the Congress to be a day of service.” He suggested such acts of service as: being a lunch buddy to a student, help at the Mobile Café or Christian Crisis Center, and befriend a patient in a rest home, write to a homebound person, or be of service to the church of your choice.
Commissioner Yoder stated, “Martin Luther King said, ‘Free at last, free at last.’ No greater words were spoken then when we were free at last than when we accepted Jesus Christ into our hearts. Through Jesus Christ, we get that salvation of knowing what’s there for us and we are free, able to worship and go about and do the other things we need to do.” He asked the audience to reflect on what sacrifices they could make for their fellow man. “We are supposed to love our neighbors and look after one another…The example we set is what we want our young people to be. It starts in the home. It’s not born to you, it’s taught to you…Jesus gave it all. Maybe we can give a little to make life a little bit better because He gave it all.”
Sheriff Pennell said it was an honor for him to be present as the new sheriff. He read from Matthew: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
“This is where we mess up: Who is our neighbor? Everyone,” Pennell said. “We should treat each and every person we come across as though they live right beside us.”
He urged everyone to be vigilant and not pass by opportunities to help each other.
Several youths participated in the event. Sequoia Wilson recited the Dr. Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise.” This was followed by Paris and Yazmin McClain reciting “In and Out of Time.” A Praise Dance was performed by Osheyana and Heaven Howard. The youth portion concluded with quotes from Dr. King recited by Titus McClain.
Mayor Holleman then introduced the guest speaker, who is also Macedonia’s pastor, Rev. Ty Michaux. Before Rev. Michaux gave the message, Mrs. Phyllis Michaux sang a rousing solo of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.”
Rev. Michaux opened his message with prayer and for his sermon, entitled “Don’t Kill the Dream,” he read Genesis 37:5-8 and 18-19. The passages deal with Joseph and his brothers, who were jealous of his dream and hated him, seeking to kill him.
“You’ve always got those haters who are out there, trying to put your fire out…I thank God for a man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, who stood for non-violence and equality for everyone.”
“I believe that Dr. King must have read Acts 10:34. The Bible declares that ‘God is no respecter of persons.’ As Rev. Michaux spoke about history, he cautioned that it is just that — the past. “If you stay in the past, you cannot move forward,” he said.
“I like Paul’s writing here to the Philippians in Philippians 3:13, ‘Brother, I count not myself to have apprehended but this one thing that I do is forgetting those things which are behind me and reaching forth unto those things which are before me.’
From Luke 9:62, Rev. Michaux read, “He that puts his hands to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.”
“About 53 years ago, we had no rights and were considered as a low class person and not even as a citizen of the United States of America. We had no voting rights at all. But in 1965, a President by the name of Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into place to bring down those Jim Crow segregation laws. In other words, discrimination and segregation. Jim Crow was no more than a series of rigged, anti-black laws and it represented racism, which is nothing but hatred.
“Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were more the chosen people and blacks were cursed to be servants and God was all for it. My, my, my.
“Black males could not offer his hand to shake with a white male because it implied being socially equal. Blacks and whites could not eat together. They could not even call us by our first name, instead of saying Mister, Misses, Sir, and Madam. Black males were to never comment upon the appearance of white females. Dogs were sicced on us. We were called names like the “N” word. We were sprayed with water hoses. You were called ‘Boy’ as a low, degrading name. I’m trying to paint a picture for the young people to see where God has brought us from. You’ve got to know where you’ve been so you’ll know where you’re going.”
He outlined separate facilities, such as dining areas, schools, and water fountains, which blacks were forced to use.
“The court system was, and I still believe to this day, is designed to take the black man out,” said Rev. Michaux.
He recalled the defiant spirit of Rosa Parks, who disobeyed an Alabama law that required black public transportation passengers to give up their seats to white riders when the buses were full.
“My Bible tells me that in Matthew 19:30, ‘The first shall be last, and that the last shall be first.’”
“But God sent a man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who didn’t see color and knew that all men were created equal in the sight of God,” Rev. Michaux stated.
“When Jesus died on that cross, he died for blacks, whites, and everybody else. And when He got up out of the grave on the third day, it was for all manner of men, all colors…If you are going to heaven, you cannot have an issue with color because heaven is a prepared place for a prepared person. It’s going to be a place where all of God’s children are going to come together…All of God’s children…will be around the throne of God, hand in hand, worshipping the Lord God Almighty.”
“So, young people and old people of God, don’t you let no one kill your dream,” he related. “You keep on dreaming because one day, your dream will come true.”
“Don’t let your past control your future,” he added.
He quoted Dr. King: “I have a dream that this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves, the sons of former slave owners, will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…”
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. I have a dream! Let freedom ring! Let freedom ring! Let it ring from the head of the mountains to bottom of the valley! Let freedom ring!” Rev. Michaux quoted.
He wrapped up by saying, “If I hold something against my brother and my sister because of the color of their skin, then you might as well take ‘heaven’ out of your vocabulary and count hell as your home.”
As the service drew to a close, Rev. Sterling Howard, President of the Alexander County NAACP, thanked the community members for attending and recalled the past efforts of civil rights issues in the county — and issues black families face today.
“My heart’s desire is that Alexander County will be remembered, back when Jim Westfield and I…when we went in Tiny Diner, that opened the doors for a lot of our brothers and sisters. I’d forgotten about it until I had seen an award that I’d received later on. Doors have been opened,” Rev. Howard stated.
However, he cautioned parents of today to urge their children forward in pursuit of education.
“Whenever blacks were allowed to go into the white schools, blacks said, ‘We’ve got it made now.’ You quit. Our parents were hard on us. You just turn your kids loose. That’s why we have all this now — you can’t chastise your kids. Folks that made those laws don’t have to put up with their kids at home because they’ve got them in private schools. It was ‘child abuse’ when I was little. My grandmother was Indian. Now, that was child abuse — she made you go out and cut your switch. And you’d better not bring back a little branch, you’d better bring a switch. You got in trouble at school, they didn’t have a telephone but they knew about it before you got home, and my grandmother would be waiting with a switch.”
“I’ll say this to the black kids. I drove a bus 20-some years. I finished up at the high school. They have Early College for kids. Those years that I drove a bus, I didn’t see but one black child going to Early College. Makes me want to cuss. Don’t you want the best for your child? Don’t you want them to be successful? Love hurts,” Rev. Howard related.
Mrs. Michaux then led the congregation in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Rev. Michaux offered the benediction prayer to conclude the service.
Refreshments in the form of a bag lunch were distributed to attendees as they filed out of the church.