In spite of the biting cold, many Statesboro and Bulloch County residents enjoyed the sunshine as they either watched or participated in the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade downtown Monday afternoon.
Among bands and classic cars, floats crafted by various civic and church groups and businesses reflected the theme "Equality Is Liberty and Justice," honoring and promoting the message to which King devoted his life.
Born in Atlanta in 1929, King became a Baptist minister and activist against racial inequality. He led the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, as well as numerous other protests against racism and in support of unity among all people.
He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. A man named James Earl Ray was convicted of his murder.
King was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. After his death, he was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2006.
Almost 50 years after his death, people continue to celebrate his mission and efforts to bring peace and parity to the world by recognizing him on MLK Day each January. In Statesboro, the events include a prayer breakfast, parade, community choir performance and inspirational speech at a local church.
It is a meaningful holiday for many. People of all races stand together alongside the parade route or ride together on floats, and sit beside each other at the community events, displaying unity as they promote equality.
Bulloch County Commissioner Walter Gibson said he regretted being unable to ride on the county's float, a replica of the Bulloch County Courthouse, due to illness, but he praised the community for its observance.
"I think it is a great thing that we can work together to promote our community. We can accomplish so much by working together," he said.
Statesboro City Councilman Sam Jones was preparing to ride in the parade when he shared his thoughts about the day's events.
"It is great that the city is participating," he said. "It shows signs of unity, which is what we will need to continue to grow."
Racism and prejudice still exist today, in spite of years of efforts to eradicate it. The fight for equality needs to continue, said Bulloch County sheriff's Investigator Jim Riggs.
MLK Day is "a day that celebrates King's wanting to bring us together as human beings and work together," he said.
Bulloch County Commissioner Anthony Simmons bundled up against the cold to ride on the county float for the parade.
MLK Day festivities "means a whole lot to me," he said. "We have the right to vote, to march and protest. We can be citizens of the United States and not be called second-class citizens. We have the right to dream, and our children can be anything they want to be."
Great strides have been made in the fight for equality, peace and unity, but the work isn't done, he said.
"We have come a long way since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we still have a ways to go," Simmons said.
Statesboro City Councilman Phil Boyum agreed and said he would like to see the celebration grow.
"I wish more of the community would become involved in the celebration," Boyum said.
Preconceived ideas and prejudice from all races needs to go, he said.
"We need to get over hatred and animosity. Over the past century we have come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do."
The weather may have contributed to a lighter-than-usual crowd along downtown Statesboro's main streets, but the crowd grew thicker along West Main Street and MLK Drive, where the parade ended. Afterward, the Statesboro Elm Street Church of God was filled as community members gathered for a speech and tribute to King.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.