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Marchers in Cornelia carry torch for Martin Luther King Jr.
Samuel Howard of Shady Grove Baptist Church reflects Sunday before marching in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. peace march in Cornelia. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

CORNELIA — Rain pelting their umbrellas didn’t deter the 35 marchers from taking their cause of peace to downtown streets Sunday afternoon.

One participant, Trent Primer of Cornelia, said conditions were worse at times for those demonstrating with Martin Luther King Jr.

“I think we owe it to him and to ourselves, no matter what the weather is, to march,” said Primer, a fabricator in Gainesville. “We all need peace, you know. We’re all God’s creation, no matter what color we are.”

The annual march, held before the King holiday, began as usual at the town’s iconic Big Red Apple statue near the town’s depot and railroad tracks downtown.

Before setting out, Bishop Ernest Burns of Shady Grove Baptist Church in Cornelia thanked the crowd for braving the wet weather.

“The truth of the matter is, the cause that we march for — this is nothing in comparison,” he said. “This is why we do this every year. We will not let anything deter us from ... this march.

“In times like these, we see the need even more for unity,” Burns said.

He went on to say his church prayed Sunday morning for the “peace of Haiti,” which was devastated last week by an earthquake.

“Peace is knowing that God is able, regardless of what we go through and whatever we struggle against,” Burns said. “... Peace is it. We won’t settle for anything less.

“We may fall short, but this is what we strive for: peace in our homes and our minds, in our country, knowing that everything is going to be all right. We don’t let circumstances dictate our level of peace and faith and what we’re doing here today.”

The group then walked down Main Street and up the hill on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, singing songs, including the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” as they reached the Shady Grove church.

The group continued singing while filing into the church for a program that featured speakers and singers.

“We are so happy to be here one more time ... to celebrate and commemorate this march,” Burns said to the 75 or so people attending the service.

Julianne Wilson of the Northeast Georgia Peace Council welcomed the group and spoke for a few minutes on the subject of tolerance.

She said she didn’t believe people should merely “put up” with certain types of people, including gays, Latinos and white conservative Republicans.

“I long for us to embrace the whole of who we are, to celebrate the rich tapestry of life, to seek to understand,” Wilson said. “Not for the sake of agreement, but because understanding makes us richer.”