The weather was cold but the reception was warm as the Indiana County NAACP hosted its annual Freedom March celebration in memory of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr.
Starting at 10 a.m. at the Indiana County Court House, about 30 people made their way — arm in arm and bundled up to brave the weather — down Philadelphia Street to Grace United Methodist Church at South Seventh and Church streets.
Now in its 15th year, the event coincides with King’s birthday, which was Wednesday, and the national holiday, celebrated on Monday, that honors his legacy.
This year’s theme was “Civil Rights in the 21st Century.” While looking to the future, many of those who spoke at the ceremony also drew upon the strength of the past.
“I love these holidays because it allows us to reflect. Folks had it a lot harder than we had it,” radio host Anthony Frazier, of Indiana, said as he walked to the church.
Glancing at those marching, he reflected upon how, during King’s time in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, those marching for equality and social justice met with violent opposition.
King was assassinated in April 1968, one day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tenn.
“This is nothing compared to when they had to march to change laws,” Frazier said. “It was literally life and death. They were going across bridges and didn’t know if they’d make it across. And they did it arm and arm, singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’”
Frazier was among those presenting at the reception and luncheon following the march. He was one of three selected to offer reflections on King and the subject of civil rights.
Joining him were Dr. George Bieger, professor of professional studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Yaw Asamoah, dean of humanities and social sciences at IUP.
Lillian Clemons, of LO Productions LLC, served as master of ceremonies. Grace Church pastor the Rev. David J. Henderson, NAACP Vice President Dr. Roger Briscoe and Pastor David Hanson of Beulah Baptist Church offered words of welcome and greetings.
The Children’s Youth Choir of Faith Temple Church of Christ performed, as did Grace Church’s Chancel Choir and Tina St. Clair, Grace’s music director.
By the time the ceremony and program began, at least 60 people had made their way to the church.
Among the crowd was Indiana County Commissioner Rodney Ruddock. He praised the local NAACP’s efforts and called the county “very, very blessed” to have such an active chapter of the civil rights organization.
“I thought the program was just beautiful,” he said. “They showed us the importance of remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and the strength he brought, showing us a love of peace and goodwill to all men.”
NAACP chapter President Dr. Carolyn Princes said she thought this year’s event was “phenomenal.”
Her message for those in the community emphasized extending the spirit of service to one’s every day life, whether by attending programs such as the Freedom March celebration or simply offering a smile or a kind world.
“We hope to expand this and I hope it will encourage people to do service all year,” she said.
As attendees gathered to share lunch after the program, Briscoe said one of his organization’s most important efforts is to promote social justice by focusing on community involvement so people can get to know and understand each other.
He compared the day’s event, where most greeted each other with a hug rather than a handshake, to having a meal at someone’s house.
“It creates a bond and it’s just a beautiful thing,” he said, “so we take the initiative when it’s really the people in the community that make it a success.”