As members of the community walked Gainesville’s streets on Monday singing "Come By Here" and "We Shall Overcome," they celebrated the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and hoped that their celebration would re-ignite a desire to work for social equality.
"That’s an ongoing thing," said Catherine Wilmont, a member of the Newtown Florist Club.
Monday was the 40th annual celebration of King’s birthday sponsored by the Newtown Florist Club. And after 40 years, members of Gainesville’s black community say they are still struggling for equal rights.
"We stopped fighting for one thing, but they come at you with other things ... like economics," said Faye Bush, president of the Newtown Florist Club. "... You can’t see the difference in 40 years ago in what’s happened in the southside of Gainesville to now. We still have the street that divides us; and we’re still on one side; and we’re still exposed to different kinds chemicals; and we still have a problem with the school system. We still have to be on the P’s and Q’s to make sure that they educate all children."
Nearly 100 people gathered Monday in the parking lot of SunTrust Bank on E.E. Butler Parkway to sing songs and march the streets of Gainesville in remembrance of King. Most of those who marched were black — a fact that Bush and Wilmont say shows the need to continue to remind people about King’s legacy.
"One thing that I see — as long as we’ve been marching, it’s mostly Afro-Americans," Bush said. "King fought for every race of people — white, black, Hispanic, whatever — and it’s just the same (people). They don’t see a need to march, I guess... If they can’t teach the kids the right history, then they’re going to always grow up to feel it’s a difference in the race, because they’re not here to support this dream."
But Bernadette Campbell, a white Flowery Branch resident, was among the marchers. Campbell, whose children are biracial, said she felt it was important to teach her children about the struggle that black people faced to gain the rights they have today. Observing the holiday with the rest of the community was just as important.
"I wish our country reflected our family: Everybody is a different color. We all love each other. We all get along," Campbell said. "My kids are accepted by white people, by black people, and we all know we’re different but that’s OK because we’re essentially the same in the important ways."
And Campbell, who pushed a stroller alongside her 6-year-old son, was teaching her children the lesson Wilmont said the march is partly about — remembering history.
"If you don’t know where you’ve been, then you don’t know where you’re going, so kids need to know," Wilmont said.
But just as important to the marchers was to urge community members to continue to work for a better life and a better community. That was King’s legacy, said the Rev. John Garrett, of Cornerstone of Faith Missionary Church in Gainesville.
King was an example sent by God to tell black people not to settle for the accepted notion that black people were an inferior race; and it is an example that community members should continue to remember, Garrett said.
"We, too, can make it to the mountain top. We, too, can overcome. We, too, can have anything that we want. We, too, can do whatever it takes to become professors, become lawyers, become doctors," Garrett said. "I just want to say you can do it. Put your mind to it. ... Let’s quit wasting our mind and reach for the mountain top."