Singing as they walked, about 100 residents rounded the corner onto College Street in Newton on Monday morning.
“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome.”
“Oh, deep in my heart. I do believe. We shall overcome.”
They sang "We Shall Overcome" to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his dream, his message and the thousands of people who stood by it.
King's famous words and quotations filled the air Monday. The key theme, his “dream,” was on full display by the Catawba County branch of the NAACP, local ministers, city and county officials and area residents during events to remember his work and his life.
March to remember
The day started with an annual march from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to the 1924 Courthouse in Newton.
The march attracted residents from throughout the county to Newton’s streets. NAACP Branch President Jerry McCombs led more than 100 residents on the three-quarter-mile trek down “A" Street from the church and then onto College Street at the courthouse.
As the group walked toward the courthouse, the Rev. Thomas Jackson talked about the significance of the day.
“It gives me an opportunity to honor Dr. King, an individual who was selfless and concerned about different segments of society and as a whole,” said Jackson, who is the Pastor of Smyre’s Chapel A.M.E Zion Church in Catawba.
The marchers first walked downhill, then up, and made a steep climb to the courthouse that sits in the middle of downtown Newton. The Rev. Vincent Ross, pastor of Maiden Chapel Baptist Church, participates in the march each year.
“When we start the march up that hill each year, I always wonder what it was like marching the way (King) did from city to city, and town to town."
Ross said the same injustices and hatred that were alive during the Civil Rights Movement are still alive today.
“It's so great to know the same God still exists, too,” he said. “The only way we can make it is to have a dream and have a plan like Dr. King. I believe that Dr. King would share that it was not his dream, but it was a dream from God. It's a dream that's bigger than one race of people. His dream was about everybody.”
Challenge to dream
King’s “dream,” which he referenced in his most famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in August 1963, was the focus and center of what Betty Coulter talked about Monday.
Coulter, who is vice chair of the Newton-Conover City Schools board, was the keynote speaker at an MLK service that followed the annual march. Standing before a courthouse crowd of more than 200 people, Coulter challenged everyone to find their “season to dream.”
Coulter, quoting Biblical scripture, U.S. President Barack Obama, and King himself, said everyone has their own “season to dream,” a time in one’s life where they can change things for the better.
“You may have thought you passed your season to dream, but I’m here to challenge you that God has given you everything you need,” she said.
“Create a season to dream in yourself while creating a dream in someone else. If you don’t feel like you can do it now, give it to someone else so they can make that dream.”
Coulter’s riveting speech brought the crowd to their feet and drew an array of chants and applause.
Near the middle of her address, she used King's words to send her message to the crowd. She screamed the words from his “I have a dream” speech, using nearly the same tone and style that King did many years ago.
Coulter’s speech, along with addresses from other area pastors and elected officials, were intertwined with religion — something McCombs said was a key part of King’s message.
“In everything I do and we do, we put God first,” McCombs said. “That’s one of the main factors.”
McCombs, who organizes the march and service each year, said King’s vision and message are what bring so many different groups and people to the march and service each year.
One of those groups is the NAACP Youth Council, which provides philanthropic service to the Catawba County area and the state.
Chris Gable, the youth council’s president, represents the next generation that will carry King’s message into the future. Gable, 15, said the day is important because it is part of his heritage.
“It’s important to remember what my race and other races went through,” he said.
Through groups like the youth council, he is confident more young people can take part in their past.
“Being young and in a group like this, you can change people’s minds and point of view,” he said. “I think we can bring the youth closer to God, their heritage and their culture.”