Pastor reflects on Civil Rights era thinking

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A crowd gathered to march in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Florala. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News

Forty-seven years ago, the Rev. Ernest Powell was standing on a street corner, a brick in his hand and yells of “Black Power” in his voice.

Monday, the Sixth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church preacher told gatherers at Florala’s Martin Luther King Jr. march how he traded in his brick for a Bible and his thoughts of hate for the idea of unity.

“As I was standing on that street corner at 17, I did not realize the issue Martin Luther King Jr. was dealing with,” Powell said. “I had thrown out the idea of non-violence for violence, but what did that violence get us? Nothing.

“I came to realize that since then, we have accomplished many great things,” he said. “We’ve gotten our voting rights, and we’ve gone places we’d never been before. As we march, I hope each of us are encouraged to encompass everything that Martin Luther King fought for – unity.”

The march was the beginning of an all-day community celebration at the Carver Community Center in Florala. Community members gathered for a barbecue, fish fry and games.

As the Rev. Joe Smith, the pastor of New Bethel AME Church in Florala and St. Mathis in Lockhart, surveyed the crowd, he spoke of growing up in the 1960s when segregation was at its peak.

“Black people weren’t allowed in the front door, weren’t allowed to drink out of the same water fountain,” Smith said. “But change came, and with it, it brought about a difference. And today, we’re trying to keep that dream alive by having young and old, black and white march in memory of Martin Luther King.”

Smith was successful in his desire for diversity at the day’s event. A crowd of more than 75 gathered as the community center and included infants in strollers pushed by their parents to community elders riding in cars just to participate.

The Rev. Nathaniel Belcher, one of many event organizers, said Powell was right in message of unity.

“We march because of what Martin Luther King stood for – unity in America,” Belcher said. “And we have to keep the dream alive, and let people know for it to succeed, we have to be together and not divided. I say teamwork makes the dream work. It’s a goal we can accomplish.”