Columbia residents honor Martin Luther King with candlelight march

Monday, January 16, 2012 | 10:49 p.m. CST; updated 8:56 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 17, 2012

COLUMBIA — Red light from tinted candle holders, green sticks of wax and even a flashlight illuminated the path from Douglass High School to St. Paul AME Church on Monday night.

About 90 individuals participated in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Candlelight Walk and memorial, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.

"You need to have two hands on your candle, sir, or give it to daddy," Kerry Mullin said at the event to her toddler son, Taygen Givan.

Taygen was adopted from Ethiopia and does not share his mother's skin tone. It was the family's first time participating in the walk, but "without Dr. King, we probably wouldn't be a family," Mullin said.

The group members slowly made their way toward the church, singing "We Shall Overcome" as they crowded into the sanctuary. Once inside, the voices were joined by the sounds of a drum set and small community choir, and the memorial service began.

Darrell Foster, a current candidate for Boone Hospital trustee, has lived in Columbia for 19 years, and he has done the walk the past 15. He remembers going downtown in Gary, Ind., with the Junior Black Panther Party and getting involved in a demonstration immediately after King's death.

"Dr. King was a man of peace, and he died so violently and so viciously," Foster said. "It was a tragic time, and a tragic day that we still feel the impacts of, even today."

Others also expressed their memories of where they were when they heard the news of King's death. But as Bill Thompson, a member of the Martin Luther King Memorial Association and the night's master of ceremonies, pointed out, today's children are often three generations removed from the civil rights movement's roots.

"There's still work to do," Thompson said, echoing a woman who had spoken out from the congregation. "I think our challenge now is teaching some of this legacy to our children."

Remembering was the night's theme, as evidenced by the memorial's largest portion, called "A Flash from Our Past." Members of the community played the roles of influential figures in Columbia's civil rights movement, most notably Sarah Belle Jackson, a founder of the Martin Luther King Memorial Association. Wynna Faye Elbert, who played Jackson, and Thompson are members of the association.

Some members shared stories of their grandparents' occupations as restaurant owners, teachers and butchers, representing Columbia's legacy of African-American entrepreneurs. The audience laughed at the familiar anecdotes, such as Thompson's recollection about a restaurant that made biscuits "so light, you threw them up, and they just floated."

The evening closed with the presentation of two Martin Luther King Service Awards for individuals who have contributed to the community: Steve Calloway, a pharmacist and former school board member, and Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education in Columbia Public Schools.

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