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MLK Day speaker: Economic quality a mission not met

Posted: January 17, 2012 5:06 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2012 5:00 a.m.

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he’d be astonished at how far we’ve come in racial equality, said the Rev. Dr. Neal R. Jones during a King Day Celebration at Camden First United Methodist Church Monday.

 “But I believe he would be appalled to see how far our nation has retreated in economic equality,” he said. Jones was the guest speaker for the Camden-Kershaw Branch NAACP-sponsored ceremony.

Jones, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Columbia and a licensed clinical psychologist, said King was a major reason he became a minister.

“Now I know that sounds odd coming from a white, former Southern Baptist,” he said as the crowd chuckled, “but the fact is that I used to read and listen to his sermons and speeches, and I still do, and they still raise the hair on the back of my neck with his bare bones way of telling it like it is.”

For King, Jones said, justice was not just about civil rights, but also about economic rights.

“He understood the importance of political equality,” Jones said. “What difference does it make for people to have the right to eat in any restaurant, when they can’t afford to buy food? Or the right to live in integrated neighborhoods if they can’t afford a house?”

According to Jones, economic rights have shifted from a racial issue to class warfare.

“It’s OK to talk about race, gender and sexual orientation, but we can’t talk about class,” he said. “Working people can no longer afford to be divided by the color line, or the party line, or the religion line.”

How soon the world forgets, Jones said, that King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., while fighting with sanitation workers for livable wages, better working conditions and the right to unionize.

“He took a detour to Memphis on his way to Washington to pressure Congress to pass an economic bill of rights,” Jones said.

For those like King, Jones said, they did not see the outcomes of their efforts, but they took on the responsibility to change anyway.

“Progress has always been an uphill battle,” he said. “They sacrificed their time and reputations, their families and friendships, and their very lives in the faith that if they stood up for what was right and spoke up for what is true some good would follow some day for somebody.”

Following Jones’ presentation, the St. John Baptist Church Quartet performed a musical selection.

The Rev. William B. Gaither, president of the Camden-Kershaw Branch of the NAACP, made the closing remarks for the ceremony.

“I believe when people do good work, they should be acknowledged and rewarded,” Gaither said before recognizing the following individuals and organizations for their efforts: Eddie Furman, Virginia Wiley, Virginia S. Furman, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Louisa A. Watkins, Eliza S. Watkins, Rosalind Watson, Ollie Thompson Brisbon, the Buffalo Soldiers, Debra Massalon, E. Mike McClendon, Kershaw County Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. and Hessie B. Peterkin.

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