By Tina Alvey
In a year that marks the 150th anniversary of both the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the birth of West Virginia, as well as the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights march on Washington, organizers expect record crowds for Lewisburg’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.
“Our committee is growing, and this event is growing,” says Steve Rutledge, one of the guiding forces behind the local celebration. “It is unlike any other holiday; it is growing.”
Last year’s celebration attracted an estimated 300 people to the Greenbrier County seat.
Following the traditional procedure, people will gather on Court Street in Lewisburg in front of the county courthouse Monday morning, and the march will commence at 11 a.m. Those marching will sing the unofficial hymn of the American civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome,” a song inextricably linked to Dr. King.
The marchers will walk north on Court Street, turning east onto Washington Street and proceeding up the hill to the Lewisburg United Methodist Church, which is just beyond the post office.
A community meal will be served to the marchers in the church’s Wesley Hall, after which those gathered will attend a ceremony in the sanctuary. That ceremony will involve musical entertainment, recognition of children who submitted the best work in an essay contest sponsored by the King Day Committee and several speakers, including keynote speaker Arley Johnson, a West Virginia native known for his stirring rendition of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
According to Rutledge, the committee is particularly heartened by the fact that so many young people will be participating this year. Large student groups are expected from Greenbrier Episcopal School and Greenbrier Academy for Women, as well as the young women from the High Rocks enrichment program.
Both the special historical perspective offered this year and the young people’s increased participation in the “Day On” holiday make the event’s theme most appropriate, Rutledge stresses.
This year’s theme is a paraphrase of a sentiment voiced by Dr. King: “In order to understand where we’re going in the future, we need to understand where we’ve come from in the past.”
Rutledge emphasizes, “This celebration isn’t just for the people of Lewisburg or Greenbrier County. We have people from Monroe County and Pocahontas County and beyond who attend. Everyone is welcome to join us.”
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