COLUMBIA — The 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Candlelight Walk and Memorial Celebration concluded a series of local events honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
Attendees filled St. Paul A.M.E. Church to capacity and participated in the service, clapping along to the musical performances and responding to speakers.
Some participants saw the service as an opportunity to give their children a sense of history. Cindy Hall said she realized at last year's walk that the service was a valuable way for her and her husband, Daniel, to teach their three children about the struggles of the civil rights movement.
"We just think it's important for them to know that it hasn't always been this way, and it's important for them to remember leaders like Dr. King," she said.
Participants walked from Douglass High School to the church, where worship leaders from eight local churches conducted a service that both celebrated King's legacy and challenged those in attendance to continue working toward social and racial equality.
Earlier Monday morning, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church hosted the Poor People’s Breakfast, an annual event sponsored by community activist Almeta Crayton, the Frederick Douglass Coalition and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Association. The free meal lasted from 8 a.m. until noon.
Crayton founded the Poor People’s Breakfast more than 15 years ago when she noticed that other events celebrating King’s birthday didn’t include low-income members of the community.
“They have just as much right to celebrate, and Dr. King would have wanted it that way,” Crayton said.
Later, the Columbia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored King with a memorial service at Second Missionary Baptist Church on Broadway. The service featured speeches and musical performances both from members of the NAACP and from church leaders representing various denominations. A free lunch followed.
That ceremony honored Wynna Faye Elbert and Annie Gardner, who organized a march down Walnut Street after King's assassination in 1968. Gardner, who became involved in the civil rights movement after seeing the condition of her first grader's textbooks, said her husband warned her not to take their children to the march because he was concerned the marchers could become the target of violence.
"It was not about us," Gardner said of her efforts during the civil rights movement. "It was about you. It was about this city. It was about our children. It was about equality and justice."