Rockdale, Newton hold Martin Luther King Jr. Day events

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Cleveland Stroud remembers seeing Martin Luther King Jr. accompany his father, Martin Luther King Sr., when King Sr. made speeches at Morehouse College, Stroud's alma mater.

A few years later, when King led the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., Stroud admired him as a leader. He appreciated the young man's dynamic personality and eloquent speeches. King's assassination devastated Stroud.

Today, Stroud is keenly aware of King's legacy.

"The things that he did made it possible not only for me but for other black people to have some success," said Stroud, a Conyers City councilman. "He gave us the opportunity to succeed and that is not lost on me. It is always in the back of my mind."

When the nation celebrates the birth of King tomorrow, community members locally will also pay homage to the civil rights leader.

In Rockdale, the community is invited to the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Breakfast, scheduled for Monday, Jan. 17, at 7:45 a.m. at LongHorn Steakhouse, located on Iris Drive at Interstate 20 and West Avenue. Cost is $5 for adults and $2 for children.

Springfield Baptist Church Pastor Eric Lee and Conyers First Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Meyers will speak. The hourlong event, sponsored by the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce and the Rockdale NAACP, will open with a prayer and a song.

The Newton County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration will take place today at 3 p.m. at Porter Memorial Auditorium at Newton High School, 140 Ram Drive. The event is free and open to the public.

The keynote speaker is Pastor Sharma Lewis, district superintendent of Atlanta, Decatur and Oxford for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. The event also features other speakers, music and the presentation of the I Have a Dream Award and the Trailblazer Award.

Aldrin Sadler Sr., president of the Citizens Progressive Club of Rockdale, a black civic organization, recalls following King's Civil Rights demonstrations on television. King's public speaking abilities impressed Sadler, a teenager at the time.

Sadler said he remembers thinking that King knew he was risking his life.

"It was not really about him, it was about the cause of the people," said Sadler. "I just think about the courage he had. I just admired him for that ... I believe the hand of God was really on him."

Newton County resident Forrest Sawyer Jr., also teen at the time, recalls a group of people from Covington traveling north to participate in the 1963 March on Washington where King made his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Sawyer was too young for that trip, but he did find his way to Memphis in 1968, shortly after King's death. He participated in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

King's actions and the momentum he had created within the black community inspired other leaders to step up, both nationally and at the local level, said Sawyer. By 1970, integration had begun in Newton County.

"It changed a lot of things in Covington and Newton County. Martin Luther King inspired all of that," he said.

Janet Goodman, a Covington city councilwoman for 31 years, also remembers wanting to accompany the group that went to Washington in 1963, but being too young. She appreciated King's method of peaceful demonstration.

"We knew he was the one who made the changes. We saw the changes and benefited from the changes," said Goodman.