The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 13, 2013

Being there for others honors legacy of the civil rights movement

By Kate Coil
For The Register-Herald

BLUEFIELD —  Keeping the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alive through service and kindness to others was the focus of the Mercer County branch of the NAACP’s annual luncheon at Bluefield State College Saturday.

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger of the Southern District of West Virginia served as the keynote speaker at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon. A graduate of Big Creek High School and West Virginia University, Berger is the first African-American federal court judge in West Virginia and was appointed to her position by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Rev. Charles H. Collins Sr., president of the Mercer County branch of the NAACP, said the purpose of the day was to celebrate the legacy of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. King was important to this nation in what he spoke for, what he lived for and what he died for,” Collins said. “We have been wanting Judge Berger to speak not only because she was the first black woman appointed to a federal judgeship in the state of West Virginia but because she is a native West Virginian. We know she was great for our community and has something important to say to us. She is an example of how the sky is the limit for our young people. Being black and being a woman has not stopped her from being where she is today. We can be anything we choose to be if we use our minds; the only thing that holds us back is ourselves.”

Dr. Marsha Krotseng, president of Bluefield State College, said the luncheon offered a time for people to reflect on how much has changed in the 50 years since the March on Washington in 1963.

“It seems like a long time, and then again it seems like yesterday,” Krotseng said. “I have a dream were just four little words that have had an amazing impact. They stood for justice, equality, dignity, respect and opportunity. There is no question we have seen progress in the past 50 years, but there is still a lot to be done.”

During her address, Berger recalled her own life growing up in McDowell County during the civil rights movement.

“During most of Dr. King’s work in the 1950s and 1960s, I was too young to understand and appreciate what he was doing,” Berger said. “I spent the first- through third-grade in a segregated school, but I didn’t know it was segregated. I just knew I went to the school in my hollow. When my father would get a miner’s holiday and we would go to visit people in Virginia, my mother would pack fried chicken and peanut butter sandwiches. I just thought that was because my mother made the best fried chicken and peanut butter sandwiches. I didn’t know it was because my parents were worried we wouldn’t be able to find a restaurant where we could eat. I stand on the shoulders of my parents, a McDowell County coal miner and a housewife, as evidence that dreams do come true.”

Berger said she felt the best way to honor the legacy of the civil rights movement is to be there for others.

“That time is proof of what we can accomplish if we stand arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder,” Berger aid. “Today, we honor Dr. King for his service and sacrifice to our nation. We honor him best, not by our talk but, by the way we walk all year round. We honor him best when we step outside our comfort zone to help others who need us. If our neighbor has no food, we should feel the hunger. If our neighbor has no shelter or clothes, we should feel the cold. During this upcoming holiday, I ask you to look deep within yourself and ask if in your day-to-day life if you are reaching out to someone different than yourself; are you extending a helping hand to someone else in need?”

— Kate Coil is a writer for The Bluefield Daily Telegraph