250 gather to honor King’s memory

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From left, Marshell Cutler holds her daughter, Alaya, 4, during a Martin Luther King Jr. program in Franklin on Monday. Latoya Murphy-Griffin sings. Ivor native, the Rev. Christopher Johnson, was the keynote speaker.

FRANKLIN—The Rev. Willis Freeman was on standby for Vietnam when civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Stationed with the Army in Germany, Freeman remembers how chaos erupted on the military base upon the news of King’s death.

“Soldiers — black and white — were turning against each other,” said Willis moments before Monday’s program to honor King at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Franklin.

To commemorate King’s life, Willis joined more than 250 for a day of remembrance hosted by Franklin Lambda Psi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Franklin Department of Parks and Recreation.

In her welcome, Barbara Barnes, chairwoman for The Inspirational Group, called King a compassionate person who so many often heard of promoting his wish for equality on the radio and television.

“Today we are honoring a great man,” Southampton County Supervisor Carl Faison said in his welcome. “It’s important we carry on his legacy. Those my age and older remember a time that things weren’t like today. Let us not forget what Martin Luther King did.”

Keynote speaker Christopher Johnson talked about how people all across America were gathering just like the folks in Franklin to remember the day a single shot rang out, hitting King on his hotel balcony in Memphis.

“Many saw hope dismantled,” said Johnson, an Ivor native and 2001 graduate of Southampton High School. “Some reacted with violence and some saw this as an opportunity to continue the dream.”

“It changed the face of black America,” he continued. “They realized one man stood up to the face of discrimination. Had it not been for that dream, some of us would’ve perished. He was a modern-day prophet. We are part of that legacy.”

Also participating in the program were The Golden Voices Choir, James McGee presenting historical reflections, singer Latoya Murphy-Griffin, James Gray reciting King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the AKA Debutantes and the Beta Gamma Chapter Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity from Virginia State University.