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Lander pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., his life and legacy

January 14, 2016

Life in the U.S. during the turbulent 1960s, how far the nation has come since then and the challenges for reaching out to others were themes of a program today at Lander University, celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event was sponsored by Lander’s Division of Student Affairs, whose vice president, Randy Bouknight, said it was the first in a series of programs that would be conducted in February, during Black History Month.

In his welcoming remarks, Lander president Richard Cosentino said everyone has people in their lives who help them, and that it is important to stop and thank those people. He encouraged the audience to pause and think about King. He asked, “Do you have the courage to do what he did?” He added, “It’s a brutal world out there. It’s not enough to accept one another, we have to love one another.”

State Sen. Floyd Nicholson, who grew up in Greenwood in the 1960s, said the city had a special role in the life of the late civil rights leader. It was the home of Dr. Benjamin Mays, the Greenwood native who was the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta for nearly 30 years, and one of the most outspoken critics of segregation. Nicholson said Mays was a mentor to King, who often sought his counsel.

The main speaker was Gerald Witt, assistant superintendent for administration for Greenwood School District 50, who recalled the struggles he and other blacks encountered in the 1960s. He was one of the first black members of the Greenwood High School football team and he said the white players assured him “they had my back.” Later, he would obtain undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina.

He said if Dr. King had applied for a teaching job in Greenwood in the ’60s, he would not have been considered because of his skin color, despite his outstanding academic qualifications. “Martin Luther King was a great American,” he said, adding, “He led the charge for social justice.” Witt said he has been blessed because King’s dream of justice affected his life personally and professionally.

Witt observed that King’s birthday is a holiday that honors him and his accomplishments, and he added emphatically, “It’s not a black holiday but a people’s holiday.” He said it is an occasion to celebrate service because King was an advocate of giving to others and should be remembered for what he did to impact peoples lives. The holiday, he said, is not only a celebration, but a remembrance and a tribute to King.

Witt challenged the audience, especially students, to work for King’s dream of having a nation together as one. “Find somewhere, some way, to serve others at Lander and in the community. It’s up to you; you can make a difference.” The dream, he told students, has been passed on to them.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of Greenwood provided a musical tribute, including the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”

Gerald Witt, MLK 2016 resize

Gerald Witt, assistant superintendent for administration for Greenwood School District 50, was the main speaker at Lander university’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 14. He said King’s birthday is not a black holiday but a people's holiday.