Two local colleges marked Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday on Friday afternoon.
Georgia College held a short program on the main campus while Georgia Military College prep school cadets and staff heard from a guest speaker who attended high school through South Carolina integration.
The first was Georgia College’s 2022 King’s Commemoration Ceremony. The university has for years offered programs celebrating the famous minister and activist known for his non-violent approach to change. Like last year, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 has caused GC to observe the occasion in different ways than in the past. A community breakfast is usually held where the work of local K-12 students reflecting Dr. King’s message is celebrated. Since large indoor gatherings are not encouraged, the GC Cultural Center, which organizes the event every year, opted for a smaller outdoor ceremony.
About 50 people attended the 30-minute event on campus before Friday, and GC Women’s Center director Dr. Jennifer Graham served as emcee in place of Cultural Center director Nadirah Mayweather who was sick.
Graham began by sharing his thoughts on King’s “beloved community,” the idea that everyone is equal and entitled to the same basic needs. The philosophy also called for the main calling card of the activist – a non-violent approach to social change.
GC President Cathy Cox, on the podium, spoke a bit about what it takes to get to this beloved community.
“If we want justice, if we want this beloved community rising above the fog of misunderstanding and putting the dark clouds of racial prejudice behind us, then it starts with me,” a- she declared. “It starts with you and me. It starts with a commitment from each of us. I hope you will join me in that kind of commitment.
Friday’s ceremony was just part of Georgia College’s 2022 MLK Day celebration. There are other programs for the campus community during the rest of this month, and this year’s theme is some of those words mentioned by Cox: “It starts with me.”
GC has created volunteer opportunities for its students this weekend, so they can take steps to become agents of change.
Graham returned to the microphone and read remarks prepared by Milledgeville Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan, who also had to miss Friday’s event due to illness. Georgia College’s own gospel choir, Voices of Joy, then performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for those in attendance before GC Black Student Alliance President Nadira Colbert and GC Student Government President James Robertson , read excerpts from Dr. King’s speech, “I went to the top of the mountain.” This speech was originally delivered just a day before King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.
Dr. Graham closed the outdoor event by challenging everyone to take the words they heard on Friday and turn them into actions that would have made King proud.
Later that day, cadets at CME Prep heard from Air Force Captain William “T” Thompson. A native of South Carolina, Thompson witnessed the civil rights movement firsthand as a black boy and teenager living in the South. His experience included meeting Dr. King before his death. Thompson then participated in several sit-ins and marches in his hometown of Orangeburg, South Carolina. As a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he also helped teach African Americans how to register to vote at a time when their franchise was being withdrawn. Thompson never ended up in jail, but he was arrested several times for doing his part.
When asked if he had ever been scared, Thompson replied, “Yeah, but I had support. In the African American community, by doing some of these things, you were kind of seen as a hero, in a way, because you were taking the risk and doing the things that had to be done.
Thompson told the captivated GMC cadets the story of his first day in high school. He joined 12 other African-American students to take their place at an all-white school in Orangeburg. They were escorted by police to the school where they were met by a crowd of protesters brandishing baseball bats and other weapons. They shouted racial slurs and made it known that new students were not welcome inside the building. Thompson and his fellow pioneers entered anyway.
Thompson went on to earn appointments to two different military service academies, the Coast Guard and the Air Force. He attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado and eventually became an instructor pilot, among other duties. He said he was happy to talk to a group of high school cadets on Friday.
“The main message I wanted to give to them was to do their best,” Thompson said. “In most cases, when you do your best, you will be more successful than most. It’s not talent or education. You have a lot of PhDs who don’t do much. They are educated, but they do not do much in life. You don’t necessarily need to have these things to be successful. If you just focus on what you want to accomplish and are willing to put the time and effort into it, you can do most of the things you want to accomplish in life.
Captain Thompson was given a saber by CME leadership for coming to campus and sharing his message with the cadets.