GALLIPOLIS — In an age when the arrival of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day often means only the celebration of a day off from work or school, faithful community members still gather each January at the Paint Creek Regular Baptist Church in Gallipolis in what has become a local tradition to honor and remember the life and legacy of the Civil Rights leader.
During the Monday’s program sponsored by the Southeastern Ohio Branch of the NAACP, the keynote address was administered by a member of the youngest generation of community leaders who have been touched by the teaching of Dr. King — Raymond Cousins, a 23-year-old graduate student and active member of the community.
Cousins, a Gallipolis resident who is obtaining his master’s degree in health care administration from Marshall University, focused his speech on the history surrounding the civil rights movement — a time period in history that many of his generation might not be familiar with.
“In order to appreciate what we have now, we have to know about the history,” Cousins said. “The present is able to speak for itself because we are all joined here together, different races, able to appreciate what Dr. King has done for us.”
Cousins began his speech by discussing the definition of civil rights, and that, while many associate the movement with the plight of blacks during the early to mid-twentieth century, civil rights pertain to the unalienable rights as set forth in the United State Constitution.
“When one hears of ‘civil rights,’ I feel that as though some individuals lack [the knowledge] of what civil rights really are. I feel as though when civil rights are brought into play it is only taken into consideration about one aspect, which is race,” Cousins said. “A civil right is enforceable right, privilege which when interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press and assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude and the right to equality in public areas.”
What is now known as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the many of the players and events therein were discussed in the speech that followed.
In the address, Cousins discussed the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement in the experience of blacks during and after World War II, the oppressing “Jim Crowe” laws, the Emmett Till murder, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and nonviolent protests that followed and the civil rights climate in the realm of education, among other topics.
The speaker also discussed the many events that may be over looked as a portion of the greater fight for civil rights that occurred following the traditional movement for black equality in the 1950s and 1960s. Also discussed was modern civil rights legislation, including Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to Cousins, the Civil Rights Movements stands as one of the turning points in U.S. history and is an important discussion point for all young Americans as any consideration of the early struggle for equality imparts a desire in youth to become better citizens and stewards of their communities.
“The Civil Rights Movement is one of the defining events in American history, providing a bracing example of Americans fighting for the ideals of justice and equality,” Cousins stated. “When students learn about the movement they learn what it means to be an active American citizen. They learn how to recognize injustice. They learn about the role of individuals as well as the importance of an organization, and they see that people can come together to stand against oppression.”
Giving closing remarks at the program was Southeastern Ohio NAACP Branch President Mabel Tanner — who was installed along with her fellow officers during Monday’s program.
Tanner began by thanking those individuals who had taken time out of their day to join in the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I think there are a lot of us that would rather sit home in our fuzzy socks on a cold day like today, but we have a cause — we have a cause that we want to do things and we want to do them right,” Tanner said.
Tanner also gave heartfelt thanks to the Paint Creek Regular Baptist Church for the use of their facilities, to those who helped to organize the program and to Southeastern Ohio NAACP President Emeritus, John Howard, for his years of service.
After the gathered crowd gave Howard a standing ovation of their thanks, Tanner, in turn, expressed her thankfulness for the opportunity to serve her community.
“I am so thankful for this opportunity and I’m humbled,” she said. “You know, really, about the time you think that you’ve grown into something and you think that you may have a little influence, that’s when you really need people. That’s when you really need the whole community. I feel like I need the whole community.”
The president went on to discuss the many milestones in the civil rights movement that have and will be celebrating anniversaries this year, including the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Dr. King gave his impacting “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 and the 150th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation.
However, according to Tanner, the work of those who fight for civil rights continues and it is her hope that the eventual equality for all people lies just ahead.
“We all want to take time to continue to remember the Martin Luther King and to all of those who lost their lives for our rights,” Tanner said. “We must continue this struggle and we must say to the Martin Luther Kings, to the Medgar Evers, to the Emmett Tills, that we love what they did, but we want to stop the bloodshed. We don’t want our people to die in vain. We want to continue to do things that will lift this country up, lift minorities up and have fairness for all people.”