Americus Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Americus Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King

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By Jay Polk - bio | email

AMERICUS, GA (WALB) – Martin Luther King Day is approaching and many people are pausing to remember the movement that he led.

While some of the battlegrounds of the civil rights movement are well known, others have faded into history.

But for one person who spoke Wednesday at Georgia Southwestern University, the memories are still fresh.

Danny Whitehead had no idea why he heard his mother cry on April 4th, 1968.

"I wanted to know who this gentleman was, what made my mother cry," he said.

Over the years, he learned what was so special about the man that met his end on that terrible day in Memphis. He learned the speeches that the great man once made, then one day he received an offer that he couldn't refuse.

"A pastor invited me to the community to give one for the community. I gave it, received a lot of accolades," he said.

Since 1987, he's traveled the South giving these speeches to civic and student groups. Like the packed house that came to the Fine Arts Theatre on the Georgia Southwestern University on Wednesday morning. For the students all of these events must seem like something that happened a long time ago and a long way away. But it really wasn't.

While not as famous as some of the other cities around the South. There was also plenty of civil rights activity in the city of Americus.

During the 1960s, the same struggles that were taking place in the rest of the South were happening in Americus too. And the most tragic story is about a group of young protesters that came to be called the Stolen Girls.

"They were simply incarcerated because they didn't do something that they were asked to do or did something that they weren't supposed to do," said Nadine Pope of the Americus-Sumter County Movement Remembered committee.

After being arrested, this group of young girls simply disappeared.

Pope said, "their parents didn't know where they were for a long time...for many months."

Eventually, they were released and one of them even made a triumphant appearance at Wednesday's celebration. But while it seems like the old segregationist laws are a thing of the past, Pope says that there are lessons to be learned by today's students in hearing these speeches again, instead of simply reading them in a textbook.

"This helps them know the struggles that their forefathers went through," she said.

And there's another benefit to having these students see these sometimes disturbing words.

"This helps to show them things that may not think happened," Pope said.

And with events like the one here, Dr. King's message - and his legacy - will be kept alive for another generation.

The group that planned today's event is also planning a parade to honor Dr. King in downtown Americus Thursday night, beginning at 6 p.m. And on Monday, another celebration is being planned at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

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