Rousing speech highlights banquet

January 19, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Guests attending the 26th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Scholarship Banquet Sunday night at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg came away energized following a rousing speech by an Alexandria, Va., pastor.

Charles H. Roman is the brother-in-law of Rosabell Roman, the longtime president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Committee, a local organization that raises money for scholarships and distributes them to students.

Rosabell Roman said after Sunday's dinner that her friends had been asking her when her brother-in-law would come to Martinsburg to speak to the organization.


Charles H. Roman is a native of Martinsburg, where he attended Sumner-Ramer School. For years, Roman fought for civil rights in education, law enforcement, local government and voting, and in Spartanburg, S.C., he was a force in identifying, investigating and publicizing injustices and inequities.

He once spearheaded a march to City Hall there to emphasize the discontent of the black community with hiring and promotion practices and he served as the first vice president of the state NAACP in South Carolina.

Roman said when he left Martinsburg 46 years ago, he had "five dollars in his pocket" and a need to find a job.

He came back Sunday to speak to about 260 people at the popular event.

"It just doesn't get any better than that. God has smiled on us," Roman said.

Among his many civil rights experiences, Roman participated in the memorable 1963 march on Washington, D.C.

He opened his speech by recalling that day, when well-known people like Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the stage for his speech.

Black and white people joined for the event, and despite fears of rioting and all the security that was in place for the march, the 250,000 people who came assembled and dispersed peacefully, Roman said.

"That was a tremendous experience that I will never forget and always cherish. I never felt more proud that day to be an American," Roman said.

Applying King's principles to today's challenges, Roman told the crowd that the country must continue to place a high value on education, and the awareness and open-mindedness it allows.

At the same time, he pointed to the lopsided way in which professionals are paid in the United States.

A basketball star who dribbles up and down a court to put a ball through a hoop is paid $20 million, while a teacher who is responsible for putting lives on the right track is paid a fraction of that, he said.

Roman challenged those in the crowd to push for higher teaching salaries.

"It shouldn't be like that. If Martin were here, he would give it to them," Roman said.

Guests paid $30 apiece for dinner, with the money raised going toward college scholarships.

About five students are selected each May to receive $1,000 scholarships. The students must have at least a 2.5 grade-point average, write an essay about King and prove they have a financial need, said Taylor Perry, a member of the scholarship committee.

During the banquet, the crowd also learned that the state Supreme Court will be coming to the area in April to help pay tribute to a famous black person who lived in Martinsburg. The Supreme Court will honor J.R. Clifford, West Virginia's first black attorney, who was pushing for integrated schools long before it became law in the United States, Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders told those in attendance.

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