By Konstantine Fekos
A night of presentation, reflection and prayer brought the social contributions and Christian mission of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. back to present day for United Faith Fellowship Church of God’s annual fellowship dinner, a community celebration for the congregation, local residents and visiting faithful.
More than 90 attendees joined Rev. Berta Newsome Jones, pastor for United Faith Fellowship, and local clergy in raising both song and spirit in the St. Brigid’s Church Social Hall in honor of King’s lasting legacy rooted in decades of struggle and civil strife.
Keynote speaker Rev. Charles Davis, associate pastor for Jones Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, representing the last generation raised in Alabama during the civil rights movement and times of segregation, enthralled the crowd with his experiences at the point in history when King arrived to “desegregate the South.”
Davis was born and raised in St. Stephens, Ala., and eventually moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as the first and only African American on the S.W.A.T. team for 11 years.
He placed the civil rights movement’s most significant impact on moments including King’s ordainment into Christian ministry and the creation of songs to motivate its participants to “keep on walking” toward the hope of fulfilling humanity’s most basic rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Davis recalls enduring stares and epithets cast at him during sit-ins and other civil rights protests.
“We would sit down and order food, waiting for servers to pass us by until we would get up and leave to report what happened,” he said. “The frightening was when we actually got served.”
His most vivid memories include television and radio accounts of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, when some 600 marchers traveling from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., were met with resistance from law enforcement batons, dogs and tear gas.
“My eyes were glued to the TV,” said Davis, whose mother kept him home for safety. “Some fire hoses were so powerful they tore the clothes off some people.”
Davis believes King’s ordainment was not unlike his own, with elder pastors charging him to preach the word in and out of season and deliver sound doctrine to those under civil strife.
“(King’s) calling was for him to lead our people from the condition we were in,” he said. “When God calls you, you got to move.”
After recounting major events in King’s life, Davis emphasized his belief that King’s completion of his earthly duties was not a sad occasion, but a celebration of the life he led, culminating in the phrase “free at last.”
“I do believe we’ve had church tonight,” said Newsome Jones upon Davis’ conclusion. “He brought it all back to us in such a marvelous way.”
Local clergy closed the evening with prayers for those in attendance and the community at large, thanking event participants for their thoughtfulness and fellowship.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.