In an America that’s often credited for being divided, there was no division to be witnessed at Monday’s march and celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Over 100 people gathered at Owensboro High School at 8:30 a.m. to begin the 1.3-mile walk to Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Facing below-freezing temperatures, the group marched in winter coats and togetherness down Frederica Street. Spirits were light as the group of diverse individuals — some who held the hands of their small children who marched — laughed, talked and sang the words to “We Shall Overcome” through the cold winds that faced them.
“Looking around at the diverse group of people who are here, I think this is just a great opportunity for us all to get together and do something to commemorate a wonderful person like Martin Luther King Jr. that’s done so much for all of us,” said Kaitlin Nonweiler, executive director of the Owensboro Human Relations Commission.
Former director for the HRC David Kelly said the number of people who showed up to the march and celebration was indicative of the hard work people were willing to put forth in order to make a difference.
“It’s symbolic of people making an effort to make things better,” Kelly said.
Residents Nick Clark and Julie Renshaw, a former history teacher at Owensboro Catholic Middle School, carried handmade signs during the march that Renshaw had drawn for her students in years past. Now retired, Renshaw felt the signs could serve another purpose at the event to celebrate Dr. King.
“I think it’s very important for the people of Owensboro to walk hand-in-hand and to have concern for all people, no matter black, white, what they are — and to care for them — be at peace,” Renshaw said.
Renshaw said she taught lessons on Dr. King in her history classes and now she’s seen her teachings come full circle as she witnessed some of her former middle school students participating in the march as high schoolers.
“We used to bring our students down here to march,” Renshaw said. “There were some Catholic High students here today, and I taught them back when, and they’re carrying on the tradition.”
After the group of marchers took their seats at the Winchester Center, it soon became obvious that 200 chairs wouldn’t be enough to seat the large group who joined in attendance to hear keynote speaker Dr. Arnold Farr.
Despite the fact that members of the Kentucky Wesleyan football team placed more seats to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd, there were still well over 40 listeners who stood during the remainder of the presentation.
“I haven’t seen a crowd like this in a while,” said Kentucky Wesleyan President Barton D. Darrell, as he stood at the podium.
“The importance of a dream has never been more important than it is today.”
The Kentucky Wesleyan Singers opened the celebration with a performance of “America the Beautiful” before touching the hearts of the crowd, causing some to rise to their feet, with a moving rendition of “Way Over in Beulah Land.”
After Judge-Executive Al Mattingly and Mayor Tom Watson each addressed the crowd and the importance of the day to the Owensboro community, the guest speaker was introduced.
Farr, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Kentucky, has worked with the Poor People’s Campaign to enlighten others about the true message intended by Dr. King.
Farr told the crowd that when King was killed on April 4, 1968, his work was “nowhere near complete,” and, along the way, something substantial had gone missing from the original vision King had created.
“At 39, he was assassinated because of his refusal to retire from or bend the movement for freedom,” Farr said. “At his death, he was out to expand the freedom movement. King was an incredible threat to an established order.”
Now, however, Farr said King’s legacy has been mistranslated and unfocused, causing it to become largely erased.
“We have completely ignored the real legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Farr said. “There were two deaths at his assassination. The first was the death of King himself. Then the death of his broader vision. Hence, the King of popular culture is not the King that was killed in 1968.”
In the end, Farr said it’s up to everyone to educate themselves about what King truly desired for the American people. Even more, Farr said King’s legacy depends on how Americans react to King’s true vision.
“I’m happy that there’s a ‘new awakening’ taking place across the country,” Farr said. “I’m happy to be part of a group that’s trying to keep King’s vision alive. The movement that died when King died is moving again.”
The event closed with everyone in attendance coming to their feet and joining hands as Rev. Rondalyn Randolph, President of Owensboro’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Branch 3107, gave the closing benediction, urging all in attendance to keep the vision that Dr. King left behind.
“As scripture says, ‘Faith without works is dead,’ — so is a vision that is unfulfilled,” Randolph said. “Help us to become the embodiment of the vision that King left behind. As he spoke in one of his quotes, ‘Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.’”