ELLERBE — With a little bit of fury and a whole lot of fire, homeboy and N.C. Democratic Party leader Wayne Goodwin on Monday delivered a plea for a return to the ideals of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 400 at Sidney Grove Agape Center, Goodwin campaigned for hope and against what he called backsliding. We may not achieve unity in our lifetimes, he said, recalling that neither Moses nor King did either — and still they hoped.
“The fact that we have come this far and gone this far has taken awhile,” he said, mentioning the election of the country’s first African-American president in 2008 and the dedication Jan. 26 of a bridge to Ellerbe native and former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye. “It seemed (until recently) that this nation had transcended the sins that had long afflicted (it. But) the struggle continues.
“There’s a lot going on that we shouldn’t be seeing right now,” he said, alluding to recently reported remarks on immigration by President Donald Trump, as well as the continued existence of people “who call themselves” Nazis, klansmen and white supremacists.
“I am saddened and disappointed and more than a little bit angry that we have seen our country backslide (and) being tested in a way we haven’t seen in at least 50 years,” Goodwin continued. It was 50 years ago in April that King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Hate and dissension has become like currency,” Goodwin warned, “and it seems some folks are willing to spend it.”
But there’s still room for hope, Goodwin said. Children should learn at least one new thing a day; preachers should remind us of our mission to create unity, Goodwin said. And all of us should never give up.
“That, we must not do,” he said. Echoing King, Goodwin reminded his audience that they had a shared goal.
“‘We may have all come here on a different ship,” Goodwin quoted, “but we’re all in the same boat now.’ We all have a way of taking a stand.”
His audience — caught up in what host Bruce Stanback called Goodwin’s “altar calls” — sprang to their feet when he finished speaking.
For his part, Goodwin slipped from the stage to greet local education and integration pioneer Ruth Watkins, who has been ailing but had insisted on being taken to hear Goodwin.
Watkins’s husband is J.C. Watkins, chair of the MLK steering committee — which staged Monday’s lunch, as well as a parade and youth talent show on Saturday, and a fancy-dress gala Friday, all celebrating King’s legacy.
At the lunch, the committee also recognized fifth-grader Sariah Townsend of Fairview Heights Elementary School for winning their and the schools’ shared annual essay contest and Latasha Baker of Richmond Senior High School as winner of the art contest. Each addressed the theme “Never Lose Hope: Unity Wins.”
During the lunch, loudspeakers broadcast snippets of King’s most famous speeches.
And the clapping, swaying MLK/J.C. Watkins Choir stirred the audience with rousing renditions of “God’s Got It” and “Freedom.”
“I like honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and I like what’s said about him,” said diner Gwendolyn Ellison of Rockingham. “I like the food, the fellowship.
”I look forward to it every year.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]