With all he accomplished, it can come as a surprise to know that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — similar to Jesus Christ — died while only in his 30s.
And though King was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, his dream lives on, said the keynote speaker at Monday’s 27th-Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon at J.J. Jones Auditorium in Mount Airy.
But it is not enough just to remember King’s dream of equality and opportunity for all, the Rev. Daryl Beamer told the more than 130 people attending the event presented by the Surry County NAACP branch. The question is, what is being done in 2017 to keep his mission going, Beamer asked the crowd, which at times responded to his remarks with applause and shouts of “amen!”
“How many of us have a dream here today?” said the reverend, a Mount Airy resident who is the pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Virginia. “What have WE done with the years the Lord has given us?”
While King was just 39 when killed, his work to help the downtrodden was phenomenal, added Monday’s luncheon speaker, who is the only African-American pastor in Carroll County.
This included King graduating from college when he was 19 years old, then receiving an advanced degree, a PhD, while just in his mid-20s, Beamer detailed.
Dr. King’s development as a reverend and social crusader coincided with the rise of the civil rights struggle in the 1950s. It was fueled by landmark Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down the “separate but equal” standards of racial segregation.
King subsequently formed the Southern Christian Leadership Council in 1957 to fight segregation and advocate for civil rights.
He rallied support behind historic speeches such as his “I Have a Dream” address in 1963, while also organizing marches and protest walks — including an epic trek from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in the name of equal voting rights.
As a result, King endured hardships such as being stabbed in the chest by a person posing as a well-wisher during one gathering, Beamer related, and multiple arrests including one in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. A court had ordered that the civil-rights leader could not protest against the treatment of blacks there.
Even being behind bars did not alter King’s struggle, Monday’s speaker continued, with King penning his famous letter from the Birmingham Jail during his incarceration.
In contrasting that to how people are willing to sacrifice today, or not, according to Beamer, “a lot of us are free and don’t do anything but complain.”
Without such sacrifices by King, the American landscape would be much different now. “Somebody paved the way for (the street) we might be free on today,” Beamer said.
“Had it not been for the courage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there never would have been a President Barack Obama,” the local reverend added of one key example of the civil rights pioneer’s legacy.
“Some of us today would not be free.”
Beamer continually reminded Monday’s audience that King accomplished all he did in 39 years, similar to Christ, who historians believe died at age 33.
“And what a great change they made in such a short time,” Beamer said of the two.
“Thirty-nine years is not long time — but that’s what God blessed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with,” he said. “He fought and he died for civil rights.”
Yet in a sense, “he still lives,” Beamer observed.
Monday’s speaker suggested that the lessons espoused by Dr. King have a place in America today, when despite such key developments as the election of an African-American president, problems remain.
“Right now, our country is going through turbulence,” Beamer said, but many of its issues can be addressed using Dr. King’s formula.
“He didn’t preach hate — he preached love,” the keynote speaker stressed, which mirrored biblical teachings which are just as relevant in 2017. “If you have ugly in you, ugly will come out — if you have love in you, love is going to come out.”
This means not judging others because they make a mistake, and being able to forgive people. “Because that’s what Dr. King would want us to do,” the speaker said.
Beamer asked the audience at one point: “Can you imagine what could be done if we came together as one people, as one nation under God?”
He said his ministry seeks to be all-inclusive, especially located in a predominantly white county in Virginia. “We don’t see color — we see people,” he said.
“We’re all God’s children.”
A special time
The annual local observance of Dr. King’s birthday on the third Monday in January is always a highly regarded event, which was not lost on the Rev. Beamer. He said it was great to be speaking in his hometown, especially on such an important occasion.
And those who listened to Beamer’s address were equally appreciative, judging by the audience response and comments from local African-American leaders.
“I know he is a servant of God and a man of God,” newly installed NAACP President Faye Carter said of Beamer, “who considers his ministry an opportunity to serve.” Carter knew Beamer while he was growing up in Mount Airy, where he and three siblings lived on Dyson Place.
Other highlights of Monday’s event were two vocal selections performed by the Rev. Beamer’s wife Roxanne, whose talents had the audience mesmerized as she sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and “Stand.” Her husband, an accomplished keyboardist, accompanied her.
There also was a group singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.”
In addition, Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe read a city government proclamation in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Rowe was joined at the podium by Commissioners Jim Armbrister, Shirley Brinkley and Steve Yokeley.
Such activities seem to be the ingredients for fighting through the turmoil gripping the world today as described Monday by Beamer, who compared the situation to experiencing turbulence during an airline flight.
“But at the end, the Son is still shining,” he said in reference to Christ and the value of hope.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.