Shoal Creek Baptist celebrates MLK’s life and legacy

Road renamed to honor slain civil-rights leader

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

The Rev. Markel Hutchins spoke passionately about Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision for America, and where it stands today.

“We’re on our way to the Promised Land, but we’re not there yet,” says Hutchins. “God has not brought us this far to leave us now.”

Hutchins’ words came during his keynote address celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Locust Grove.

Rev. Markel Hutchins was the keynote speaker at Shoal Creek Baptist Church for their Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Photo by Seth Jackson

Smiles of anticipation decorated the faces of churchgoers and guests throughout the event, as they celebrated the renaming of a portion of LG-Griffin Road, between Ga. Highway 42 and Tanger Boulevard, to honor Dr. King, who would have been 87 years old on Jan. 15.

King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr., pastored at Shoal Creek from 1930-32. Longtime Shoal Creek member, Dr. Geraldine Helton, offered a unique perspective as someone who remembers Dr. King from when he was a young boy at the church.

“He used to play in this church when he was two years old,” she says.

Helton encouraged those in attendance to continue King’s mission of seeing beyond racial barriers to bring people together.

“Let’s not look at the midnight of racism, and not see the daybreak of brotherhood,” she says. “I plan to go to Heaven when I die, and I don’t plan to be up there by myself. And if I go to Heaven, I plan to see you all there together.”

But it was the words of Rev. Markel Hutchins, civil and human rights leader and founder of Movement Forward Inc., that ignited the jubilant crowd at the church. He says Dr. King had a vision for America that has yet to be truly realized today.

“We come here to celebrate the fact that 87 years ago, a great American was born who would challenge this nation to become a more perfect union,” says Hutchins. “We are here because we recognize that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us … We’ve come a long way, crossed many bridges. But the collective struggle of our humanity and our pursuit of the American promise continues, 48 years later. We have more miles to march and more bridges to cross. Only when we seek justice for everybody will we be able to see justice for anybody.”

Hutchins cites ongoing struggles with poverty, violence, drugs, disproportionately low wages and other issues as issues that must be addressed in order for society to move forward. He also says there is more work to do in order to improve the relationship between the black community and those who work in law enforcement.

“Most police officers go to work and do their jobs every day,” he says. “We have a generation of young people that do not respect law and order. And a lot of that is a result of the fact that there’s mamas and grandmamas that didn’t make them respect the law and order in their own house. The other side of that is, we do ourselves a disservice, both as blacks and whites, when we act like there is not a problem with racial profiling and police misconduct … The problem is, we have developed an attitude and a mentality that in order for you to be right, somebody else has got to be wrong. That is absolutely not the way Dr. King worked. He said black and white, together we shall overcome.”

Dr. Geraldine Helton spoke about Dr. King’s younger days at Shoal Creek Baptist Church. Photo by Seth Jackson

Hutchins called on people from all walks of life to work together to solve problems facing society in general, and the black community in particular. He navigated his way through the cheers of the crowd, to address what he calls “residual effects of organized slavery and legal segregation now afflict generations that were yet unborn when Jim Crow died.”

“The unemployment rate is the same in 2016 as it was in 1966,” he says. “Social, economic and political progress must be measured using the most needy among us as our barometer. Perhaps the greatest threat to the comforts we enjoy as a way of life today are not international terrorism, but rather domestic desperation … We can sit on the front of the bus. We can even drive the bus. But where are we really?”

Monday’s celebration also featured music from Floyd Chapel Baptist Church in Stockbridge, where Dr. King preached his first sermon. Several prominent figures in Henry County offered their reflections on Dr. King during Monday’s program, including Henry County NAACP President Eugene Edwards.

Edwards reminded the crowd of the importance of honoring Dr. King’s accomplishments and his mission.

“We do this every year to keep Dr. King’s dream alive,” says Edwards. “He wasn’t for white folks, he wasn’t for black folks. He was for everybody. If it wasn’t for Dr. King, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”