JAMES ISLAND —“ ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Martin Luther King Jr. lived by these words and died by these words.”
As Sandra L. Johnson made this statement to the racially diverse crowd at the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Ecumenical Prayer Service for Unity at the Church of the Nativity, many were moved to tears and applause.
The program for the evening included a children’s reflection of “The Prize” as well as a special performance by the James Island Congregational Church Male Choir.
Johnson, the guest speaker, was the recipient of the 2003 Christopher Award for Literature for her book “Standing on Holy Ground: A Triumph Over Hate Crime in the Deep South.” She is a native of Columbia who has made it her life’s ambition to put an end to racial prejudice, and “not just in the South or the East Coast but worldwide.”
“Dr. King had a vision of what America could be,” she said. “He held a mirror in front of the face of America and that mirror reflected a land where citizens of African descent were being forced to use (designated) water fountains, sit in backs of buses.”
Johnson said that the worst thing this mirror displayed was people who claimed to be Christians who were standing by and watching as African-Americans were beaten and killed because of the color of their skin.
As Johnson read King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, those in attendance were reminded of the relevance of the words even in today’s society.
“We should rejoice in the changes that have made America more racially diverse. That the shackles have been loosened to allow people to reach their full potential,” she said. “But King’s dream for this country is just that — a dream.”
She said that when young black men can enter a rich white neighborhood without being stopped by the police, when Hispanics are no longer accused of taking jobs, and when Arabs are allowed on planes without undergoing strict checks, only then will King’s dream become reality.
“It is only when we are fair and just to all people because of the content of their character and not the color of their skin that we can say ‘free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we’re free at last,” she concluded.
“I was very impressed with her,” said Clyde Johnson, a member of the MLK Jr. commemoration team who was responsible for putting together the event. “Our goal for this service was to make sure that the community doesn’t forget what Martin stood for. Doing this annually has kept the dream alive.”
Clyde Johnson said that King’s role as a father, husband, pastor, and activist has secured his place as an icon for reform.
“These are the types of people we need to promote,” he said. “Having Ms. Johnson here has been truly inspirational to all of us.”
Father Dennis Willey of the Church of the Nativity echoed Clyde Johnson’s remarks.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for people to come together in a spirit of unity,” he said. “I am very proud of the (commemoration) team and what they have done. They do an excellent job each year of making this a truly special event.”