Education is MLK legacy, speakers say in Vicksburg, Port Gibson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2005

George Williams speaks Monday. (MEREDITH SPENCER The Vicksburg Post)

[1/18/05]Two men who are leaders in their fields stressed the importance of education in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day speeches in Vicksburg and Port Gibson.

Grand Gulf Nuclear Station’s top executive, George A. Williams, spoke to about 275 people at Vicksburg’s annual citywide event at Municipal Auditorium and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James Graves Jr. addressed a packed house at Port Gibson’s First Baptist Church.

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The speeches were to commemorate the Jan. 15, 1929, birthday of the leader of the civil rights movement who was assassinated 36 years ago.

Graves is the only black jurist on the state’s nine-member high court, having been elected in November to a full eight-year term. He reminded his audience that education was the cornerstone of King’s success.

King received his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College when he was 19, Graves said. “He didn’t just pop up out of nowhere to lead the civil rights movement. He prepared himself to lead the civil rights movement. He educated himself to lead the civil rights movement.”

Graves said his experience as a circuit court judge in Hinds County showed him the consequences of a lack of education.

“There were days I sent 20 to 30 young men off to jail before lunch. I didn’t like it, but I did it. The thing they all had in common was that they had dropped out of school,” Graves said.

Graves was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2001 by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. His election was in the majority white Central District of Mississippi, and he became the second black person elected to the court from that district. He has a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College and law and public administration degrees from Syracuse University. Among his many honors, he was named the Jackson Public Schools’ Parent of the Year in 2001.

Graves encouraged the young people in the audience to work to solve society’s problems wherever they are.

“No matter where we live, all of the problems are our problems,” Graves said.

Williams also spoke on education. He grew up in north Philadelphia, Pa., the middle of five children of parents who had not completed high school.

“However,” Williams said, “they made it very plain to us that their expectation is that we graduate from high school at the minimum, and, of course, my mom and dad both wanted us to go further.

“So all five of us did graduate from high school. I was the first to graduate from college, but my brother and my sister underneath me followed and two of us ended up getting master’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees, and I give all the credit to my parents because even though they didn’t have an education, they really pushed us.

“You knew no matter what you did you were going to get an education,” Williams said.

Williams said he and his siblings faced obstacles to education, including gang warfare and illegal drug use.

“If you didn’t have your mind focused on education, sports or something to keep you occupied, you knew that you were going to get in trouble,” Williams said.

In Port Gibson, the Alcorn State University choir performed. Also during the Vicksburg ceremony, Nathaniel Williams and the Mighty Train of Gospel, a group of about 20 youngsters and their choir leaders, sang twice. George Williams acknowledged their presence during his speech, saying he was glad to see so many young people there to hear the messages that were being presented.

The auditorium event at 1 p.m. followed an annual fraternity scholarship breakfast. At 5:30 p.m., a torch was lighted at the King memorial just northeast of downtown.

Nine people attended, with memorial day committee charter member Lurline Green lighting the torch. The small group held hands and sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

Green said the late Abdul Akbar began the tradition in 1985, the first year the day was observed as a national holiday. About a year later the baton was passed to the late Lloyd Davis Jr., who was instrumental in getting the brick-and-stone marker erected and in changing the name of a portion of Openwood Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The Rev. Virdell Lewis, associate minister at New Mount Pilgrim M.B. Church, 501 N. Poplar St., led the group in a prayer to close the brief ceremony.

The marker includes King’s birthdate and the day he was slain in Memphis, April 4, 1968, and a quotation from one of his famous speeches, “Let Freedom Ring.”