Struggle for justice – Past, present and future, was the message resonating through the worship and celebration that surrounded the annual birthday celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., at Friendship Baptist Church in Calhoun on Sunday.
For more than three hours, members of the community and others from surrounding communities celebrated the 85th birthday of the leader of the Civil Rights Movement through song, sermon and worship before attending a reception that followed at Duke’s restaurant.
Guest speaker at the event was Pastor and Author Dr. Christopher Bowen of the Living Tabernacle in Forest Park, Ga. Many other praise and worship groups from all over Northwest Georgia and Gordon County attended and participated in the program.
One of the main events welcomed the first black Calhoun Police Officer and later chief of police, Willie Mitchell, who was recognized with the MLK Humanitarian Award, by Walter Harris on behalf of Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer, who was unable to attend the event.
Mitchell began his service in 1968 according to Barbara Jackson, who presented Mitchell with the award.
“Willie began working for the Calhoun Police Department in 1968, and in 1981 he was promoted to Assistant Chief and in 1988 he assumed the position of Chief of Police,” said Jackson. “Willie retired after 32 years of service protecting those in Calhoun. Willie Mitchell is a man of honor, honesty, and integrity. This Martin Luther King, Jr. day we honor a man who taught us to give so much to this country. We want to honor Willie Mitchell for what he taught us and gave to the city of Calhoun.”
Also being honored at the memorial was the late Eula Mae Bowen, whose granddaughter Rikkila Christian paid tribute.
Christian explained Bowen was responsible for petitioning a Calhoun street be named after her hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Christian explained that though the street name was changed after Bowen passed away, the conviction shown by her grandmother to be proud of who she was, remained with Christian.
“My grandmother before she passed away, I remembered that she traveled to gospel singings and saying that every city that she went to there were always billboards, avenues and streets memorializing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was her hero,” said Christian.
“She said ‘before I pass that’s something that I want to make sure that Calhoun has. That one of these streets has got to be changed to my hero,’ so she went back and forth, back and forth to city council meetings and she petitioned and according to my records I don’t think that the street was actually changed before she passed away, but it did get changed.”
From her grandmother’s lead, Christian spoke to the theme of “Struggle for justice – past, present and future,” and charged the audience with moving words to embrace respect for yourself and others.
Christian explained her belief in three things that could be done to overcome the struggle for justice: “a necessity for education, there is also a loss of self respect and there is an absence of religion,” said Christian.
“I believe we can increase our education and go back and study our black history. I know that when I study black history, I know that that’s pulling me in a sense of knowing who I am and that way when I walk around outside I can walk with my head held up high. My grandmother, she went and got this street changed. Martin Luther King Jr., he went and changed a whole bunch of things.”
“Then we as all people need to start walking around with self respect. If we can respect ourselves we can expect someone to respect themselves.”
“Absence of religion in itself. I remember my grandmother saying they said prayer in school, they took that out of school and look what’s going on now. Our situations are going to change. That’s the answer, that’s the key. We are sitting up in here trying to figure out. We don’t have to go very far, just look up, pray and look up.”
The celebration also welcomed speakers such as Calhoun City Council member Matt Barton; emcee for the event Evangelist Solita Burley; Gordon County Probate Court Judge Richie Parker; and many others.
To continue the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the public was invited to visit the memorial located in front of the courthouse on Monday in honor of the leader.