A Gainesville-born preacher now serving in Lilburn exhorted hundreds gathered Monday at a Gainesville school to carry on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
"The cold truth is that the struggle is not over," said the Rev. Richard B. Haynes, pastor of Salem Missionary Baptist Church. "It is a brighter day, thank God. ... Things have gotten better, but it's not over. We still have a mission to fulfill."
Haynes was the featured speaker in a program at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy off Jesse Jewell Parkway, wrapping up a day of festivities to remember the late civil rights leader.
The 42nd Annual King Day Celebration, sponsored by Newtown Florist Club, a Gainesville-based environmental justice group, began at 1 p.m. with a march around the downtown square.
Prayers and singing preceded the march, which started in the SunTrust Bank parking lot off E.E. Butler Parkway at Washington Street.
About 100 people started on the walk, falling in behind a bright yellow banner that identified the march and proclaimed a message of "peace, unity and justice."
But that number quickly grew, as participants, singing such iconic songs as "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine," were joined by others on the police-escorted walk to New Holland.
Several hundred poured into the auditorium of the school at 170 Barn St.
Among those making the entire trek was Gainesville resident Ann Rucker, who held the hand of her niece, Alesha Allison, as she turned from Washington onto Main Street.
She said she believes it's important to promote equal rights for everyone.
"We still have racism in the world, but I do think we've come a long way," Rucker said.
Overall, "it's a blessing to be involved" in the march, she said.
The New Holland program featured a mixture of music, prayers and speeches.
"Dr. King's contribution to the people of our nation is immeasurable," Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said. "He dared to have a dream and, more importantly, he had the courage to remind our lawmakers and his fellow citizens that equal rights was a principle that our nation was founded (on)."
Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton recalled reading one of King's sermons while a young college student.
King "talked about what it really means to be great," Knighton said. "Greatness is not tied to economic achievement, position, title, material possession. Greatness is tied to those who humbly serve.
"And on this day, I would challenge us all, as I challenge myself day by day, inspired by that sermon ... to be great in everything we do and say," Knighton said.
Frank Norton Jr., president of The Norton Agency in Gainesville, talked about harsh economic times requiring the community to pull together.
King "taught us that lessons from the past build us a stronger future," he said.
Norton said the economy is improving but probably won't return to the same vigor.
"We're not going to fully recover," he said. "We've changed, hopefully for the better."
Norton said he believes much of the recovery hinges on the community investing in itself.
"People in here will put the people in here back to work," he said.