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On Monday January 20th, we, as a nation, are observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. On that day, we all would do well to remember, and honor, the basic principles that Dr. King stood for…principles like fairness, justice, equal rights and equal opportunities, respect and compassion for our fellow men.

Here in the South, Dr. King was not the most popular man alive back during the turbulent civil rights days in the 1960s. And the civil rights movement itself was often wrought with controversy, even violence. But as we pay our respects on the Martin Luther King Day observance, it’s worth noting on this national holiday how smoothly, how respectfully, how fairly, equally, and with much dignity, our community responded and adjusted to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

As a young student in the Hendersonville public school system in the 60s, we experienced "first hand" the virtually un-noticed transition from SEGREGATION to INTEGRATION of our local public schools. Some cool, calm and wise leaders in our schools, in our churches, and in our local governments, were in place at the time that led that transition in our community. Personally, we will forever honor and respect their leadership…and their fundamental sense of equality, justice, and fairness…that led us through that major but graceful transition in our community.

Make no mistake…we saw a LOT of change here in our own community in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The previously all-black 6th and 9th Avenue schools ceased to exist…and those students were absorbed, and in most cases, welcomed, into the city and county school systems that existed at the time. The whole east side of Hendersonville, and much of the west side, underwent a total physical and cultural “sea change” as bulldozers and steamshovels tore down and literally plowed up the old Brooklyn and other mostly black, and mostly SLUM, neighborhoods. What followed was not an immediate success…the first Lincoln Circle and some other newer public housing, for example, left a lot to be desired…and much of what replaced those old neighborhoods took decades to make ”right”, or as “right” as they are today.    


With the late Sam Mills, we had one of the first black city councilmen in the state. With Chief Donnie Parks we had one of, if not THE, first black police chiefs in the state.

There may have been a few very minor bumps it that road to a more equal community, but those of us who were around at the time, and whose job it was to observe it, record it, and report, it proudly noted, and cherish the memory to this day…that the civil rights transition in OUR community was not only peaceful…but filled more with a spirit of true brotherhood than resentment or animosity.

Bigotry and racism, of course, did not disappear with the old Brooklyn slum or with those locally segregated public schools. But ours has historically been a strong Judeo-Christian community…and that culture, that most fundamental foundation, enabled our community to make the transition appropriately into a more open, equal, fair, and compassionate community.

With the Martin Luther King Day observance, let’s remember that our community has honored him with a park in his name; with part of a busy boulevard in his name; and his legacy will be honored in the annual United Breakfast at Blue Ridge Community College Monday morning and in many pulpits on the Sunday morning before the holiday.

The Apostle Paul wrote in a letter to the Galations….”There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female…for ye all are one in Christ Jesus.” Abraham Lincoln made that precept into public policy in the Emancipation Proclamation many centuries later. Another century later our nation’s president and congress made it into the law of the land in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And Dr. King re-iterated it eloquently in every speech he gave and in every sermon he preached until the day he died.  Because it was the right thing to do. 

Yes…our community did it well…but we can always do it better. And it’s with that on-going challenge, articulated by Jesus, by his apostles, by Lincoln, King, and by every great leader since…that we observe the Martin Luther King, Junior birthday this year. For chiseled in stone is that eternal and moral challenge that we all carry forward into the future.   Because it is the right thing to do.

As always, we invite your comments…on our comments.

By WHKP News Director Larry Freeman 

January 2014