March offers subtle links between eras

Scores of people marched through West Point to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday.
Staff Writer

The marchers found it fitting, a mile-and-a-half trek along a street named for the the Civil Rights leader onto Main Street through the heart of downtown to a school where all races now learn together.

The first eight blocks are lined with modest, well-kept homes owned mostly by African-Americans. The 100 or so marchers passed two churches -- Davidson Chapel and Immaculate Conception Catholic -- and walked under the watchful spires of several others.

After all, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor and much of the Civil Rights movement was born 70 years ago in churches -- large and small.

"I hadn't really thought about it, but the route is symbolic in a way. It covers just about everything, where it started, where it's gotten us, and maybe where we need to go," said Dorothea Mitchener as she stood alone in front of the Catholic Church on Main Street, watching Monday's 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March through the streets of West Point.

"It all started in churches. I guess it is fitting that they are on the route," added Eddie James, who was among the 100 or so who braved chilly temperatures to walk from the intersection of MLK Jr. Drive and East Half Mile Street south to Main, west to Commerce, south to Westbrook and east to Central School.

The march attracted all ages; a few non-African-Americans joined in. Even more attended a ceremony at Central School.

For the marchers, who sang hymns and spirituals and chanted some of Dr. King's popular phrases, the experience often was colored by their ages. In the end, the goal -- the dream as it were -- usually was the same.

"It's the principal of the thing. I believe in what he fought for," said Nancy Jones, who has participated every year but one.

"We have to continue the fight, he fought for all people, all races, we all should do that," added James. "All people have rights, it's gotten better, but we still have a way to go."

"We need to remind ourselves of the struggle, of how far we've come and how far we still have to go, especially in today's climate," stated Anna Jones, who has been involved in 22 of the event's 29 years.

"We have so much divisiveness now. We need to come together as a people, it doesn't matter the color of your skin. It shouldn't be just one day, it should be 365 days. We shouldn't just have events like this and it be back to business as usual the next day," Anna Jones continued.

"We study Dr. King in school, my parents and grandparents talk about what he did. I guess I wouldn't have the chances I have today if it wasn't for him," said Trechia Mitchell, a 19-year-old visitor from Monroe County who was watching with two friends.

"But it's hard to get it sometimes, when you hear the things some of our elected officials say, some the things they do. A lot of kids my age wonder about the progress," she added as her friends nodded in agreement. "I guess it depends on your perspective, who you hang out with. I know it's not separate like it used to be, but it feels that way sometimes. I wish it didn't. I guess that's where we all still have to do something."

The street name, the churches and the integrated school were just a few of the things linking Dr. King and 2018. Other parts of Monday's march were more subtle.

For instance, Police Chief Avery Cook was among those leading the march, sirens blaring in his police vehicle. Cook is only the city's second black police chief, something almost unheard of just a few years ago.

And the marchers used old-fashioned bull horns, chanting as they went. Police used the same kind of bull horns to warn and admonish protesters during Dr. King's era.

"Wow, that's interesting. I never thought about it. You just take things like the police chief for granted. You just expect the best person to be hired. It's funny, that's the kind of things he was fighting for," said Mitchener, reacting after a long pause to digest the images. "I guess it's a sign of progress."