More than 180 marchers, almost evenly divided between whites and blacks, left the First Baptist Church on Francis Street in Richmond at 5 p.m. Monday, making a loop down Irvine Street, around Second Street, up Water Street and then Collins Street back to the church.

They walked in honor of the marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggles of the 1950 and 60s.

The route was chosen because of the streets’ significance in the history of Richmond’s black people, said the Rev. William Hale, pastor of St. Paul AME Church.

“Irvine Street was once lined with black-owned businesses,” he said. “Where are they today?”

Slaves were once bought and sold on Second Street and Water Street, he said.

Despite the depressing facts of history, the marchers laughed and sang cheerfully as they trekked uphill and down to circle Richmond’s old downtown.

Back at the church, Velmar Miller, first vice president, presided over a service that included songs, prayer, personal messages and a video of King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.

In addition to the largest number of participants in recent years, the march was notable for being led by eight ministers, Miller said. “We also had the Madison County Schools’ superintendent with us for the first time,” he said, acknowledging Tommy Floyd, who was named interim superintendent this month.

“Some great things are starting to happen in Madison County,” Miller said.

The march also included parents and children. Walter and Dotty Gassett carried a sign bearing King’s photo and the dates of his birth and death that their daughters Laquay and Roshanda had made.

King’s birthday is special to Mrs. Gassett for more than one reason. “Jan. 15 is my birthday, too,” she said.

While most remarks centered on the life and work of Dr. King, Richmond Mayor Connie Lawson suggested that next year’s events also emphasize the work of his wife, Coretta Scott King.

“I read Mrs. King’s biography a few years ago,” Lawson said. “When her husband died, she was left with four children, but she continued to carry the dream.”

The Rev. Thom Gibson, chair of the Richmond Human Rights Commission, said he was encouraged by the “rainbow” of citizens in attendance. He challenged them to be involved in issues of justice, equality and peace.

The Rev. Robert Blythe, pastor of First Baptist, Richmond mayor pro tem and president of the NAACP’s Richmond branch, invited those in attendance to join the organization. Dues are $30 annually, “a small price to pay for freedom,” he said.

The 99 and a Half Just Won’t Do interracial men’s choir, founded 11 years ago, sang for the gathering.

In Berea, more than 90 marched Monday afternoon from Union Church, down Chestnut Street through the Berea College campus to City Hall, where they were welcomed by Mayor Steve Connelly, who also marched.

The marches listened to an address by Berea Professor Andrew Baskin and watched retired Berea Professor Richard Drake and former Middletown School teacher Dorothy White Miller light a candle in King’s honor.

After he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King told his Atlanta congregation that he should not be remembered for the honors he won, but by how he treated others, Baskin said.

“What did he do for justice? What did he do to tear down the barriers of race, religion, gender and class. And what did he do then to try and stop a needless war? That is what he wanted his legacy to be,” Baskin said. “He wanted people to remember that he tried to make the world better.

“All of us here today should adopt that philosophy,” said Baskin, a former director of Berea’s Black Cultural Center.

“Each one of us must be a servant. How much we can serve may be limited by certain factors. We can speak ebonics, but we can serve. We can live in a shack, but we can serve. We may be of different races, but we can serve. We all have limitations, but we all can play a role in making this world better.”

The advances of the civil rights movement have many other heroes in addition to Dr. King, Baskin said. Many of them were uneducated, even illiterate. “They may have lived in shacks and been beaten down all their lives, but in the 1960s they decided to fight for a world that we are the beneficiaries of.”

Baskin urged his listeners to make today’s world better by concentrating on love and justice and by helping the poor and the homeless.

“If you want to be a leader, you must be a servant,” he said, citing Christ’s response to James and John after they asked for leading roles in kingdom.

Martin Luther King was a servant “who showed all of us, even though we are human, that we can do the work of the Master.”

After Baskin’s address, the marchers sang, “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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