Citizens of Richmond joined hands to sing “We Shall Overcome” at the conclusion of a Martin Luther King Day program sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of the NAACP at the First Baptist Church on Francis Street.

Those in attendance also heard exhortations from black and white leaders to continue the work that King began.

The civil rights movement was not just something that began in the 1950s and ended in the 1960s, said Velmar Miller, local NAACP vice president who presided over the program.

“You could say it began in 1619 when the first anti-slavery petition was filed, but it continues today,” he said.

“It didn’t begin or end with the great leaders of the 19th century such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas, and it certainly did not end with the death of Dr. King in 1968.”

While W.E.B DuBois took the lead in creating the NAACP, Miller said, the organization was formed by people representing various ethnic groups. The NAACP “is not just about black people, it is about all people,” he said.

The Rev. Thom Gibson, pastor of Richmond’s First Christian Church, read from King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” written to white clergymen who had called his activities “unwise and untimely.”

King said he was in Birmingham “because there is injustice here.” He could not sit idly in Atlanta, where he was pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, King said. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote.

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church,” King wrote, “it will be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.”

Gibson said that “44 years after Dr. King wrote during his Birmingham imprisonment, the day that he foresaw still has not come. I hope with Dr. King that the church will come to be the church that God called it to be.”

Karen McClain Wright, chair of the Richmond Human Rights Commission, read from King’s “Mountain Top” speech, given on the eve of his death.

“I’ve seen the promised land,” King told his audience in Memphis, Tenn., on the night April 3. “I may not get there with you, but I know we as a people will get to the promised land.”

The Rev. Robert Blythe, president of the local NAACP and pastor of First Baptist Church, also recalled the “Mountain Top” speech.

“The journey to the promised land is one we all must make,” he said. “We must all get there together.”

The men’s choir of First Baptist Church sang for the event as did two Madison Central High School students, freshman Jashawn Boles and senior Emily Sutton.

Boles and Sutton each sang solos during the program, and both joined in leading the congregation in singing “We Shall Overcome” for the conclusion.

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