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Celebrations honor King's fight for equality

January 19, 1998

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Celebrations honor King's fight for equality

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - It was a Sunday of marching, singing, giving and praying as several hundred people gathered in Charles Town, W.Va., and Shepherdstown to celebrate the legacy of the late Martin Luther King Jr.

With placards reading "Keep the Dream Alive" and "Peace and Justice," a racially-mixed group of about 70 people marched through the streets of Charles Town Sunday afternoon for the annual Martin Luther King Freedom Trail March.

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"Let America know that we are still not satisfied with the way things are going," the Rev. Ronald Paige told marchers at the Mount Zion Methodist Church. The associate pastor from Berryville, Va., noted later that nearly half the prison population in the country is African-American.

"We aren't tired of marching. We aren't tired of protesting. We'll go back to sit-ins if we have to," Paige said of the effort to achieve racial equality.

James A. Tolbert, president of the West Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, noted that "most of us supported the Democratic candidate" in the last gubernatorial race.

"I'm here to tell you today that ... Gov. (Cecil) Underwood has made a difference so far."

He praised the Republican for declaring he will not tolerate hate crimes and for appointing a minority business task force.

"Now it's a celebration," Julia Downing of Charles Town said after the service of the civil rights leader's birthday. She noted the years that passed from his assassination in 1968 until his birthday was made a national holiday.

Although many observances were held Sunday, the official observance of King's birthday is today.

"It means unity of all cultures, getting together and realizing you can take a stand in a peaceful way," Warren Stewart, 15, of Charles Town, said of the holiday.

Sunday evening at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, another racially diverse crowd of more than 200 gathered together to commemorate King's life and support the Shepherd College Multicultural Leadership Scholarship program.

The program pays 25 to 75 percent of a student's tuition, according to the Rev. Ernest Lyles Sr., pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church. He said 21 students at the college are receiving assistance from the program, which requires participation in the Multicultural Leadership Team.

Keith Howard, a sophomore secondary education major from Washington, D.C., said being a member of the team has taught him the value of "embracing every culture."

Lyles noted the past year also saw the creation of a pre-college program at Shepherd for elementary and middle school students. Students from the Dream Team program spoke of the need to end racism, violence and drugs.

Third-grader Jonathan Williams drew applause when he praised his father as "the person I look up to ... because he teaches me many things and takes care of me."

"We cannot deny that there is still widespread discrimination," Lyles said after a powerful performance by his church's Ambassadors of Christ Choir. "We're on the right road, but we haven't reached our destination."

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