LUMBERTON — The second woman and third black to be elected to a District Court bench in Robeson County took to a pulpit in both Red Springs and Lumberton on the holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. to share her dream for the future of the county’s black community.
A Parkton native, Judge Judith Milsap-Daniels told the congregation at First Missionary Baptist Church in Red Springs that growing up in the northern part of the county did not expose her to what life was like for most blacks living in Robeson. Racial inequality was something she didn’t witness in the county, she said, until running unsuccessfully for a judgeship for the first time in 1996.
“I began to see that the black community struggles to gain and to maintain a fair share of political power and the benefits that go along with it,” said Daniels, who won election in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.
Daniels, referred to as the Rosa Parks of Robeson County by the Rev. Jimmy L. Gilchrist during a Monday ceremony at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Lumberton, said she is determined help rid the county of racism.
“Our numbers put us in a challenging position,” Daniels said after the event. “We are third in numbers and that has consequences. I do believe the black community faces challenges with equality and political power in Robeson County.”
In Red Springs, Daniels called on the blacks to represent themselves at the polls.
“Every countywide election gives the black community about 21,000 opportunities to vote for a better county,” she said. “There may never be another black presidential candidate on the ballot in our lifetime, but we still need to vote, in every presidential and non-presidential election.
“We need to vote as if our lives depended on it, because in a sense, they do,” she said.
Nearly 100 people lined the pews of Bethany Presbyterian Church and joined the choir in song.
“Everybody, whether you’re black or white, should be able to do what you want to do and be who you want to be,” Sylvester Collins said. “This day celebrates that there is no color.”
Collins said King has been instrumental in how he lives his life every day.
“I see and understand what he was talking about,” Collins said. “Black, white or any other color — everyone should get along and get a fair shot.”
For Collins, the service represented more than just a man who had a dream.
“You need to know all the things that happened before you,” Collins said. “We need to carry on with the ideals that good leaders have shown us in the past and learn to use them in the future.”
Councilman John Cantey also spoke at the Bethany Presbyterian Church event, which was sponsored by the Robeson County Black Caucus.
“Let us remember the dreams of the past, and dreams of new, and continue to build upon the sacrifices and struggles of the past that got our nation where it is today,” Cantey said. “Your attendance here today shows a willingness to embrace the vision of sharing the dreams, fighting injustices, social or economic oppression and promote equalization for all. … History is being made and times are changing for the better.”
Patricia Crump McRae said King paved the way for the current generation.
“He blazed a trail for (Robeson County) to have a first African-American judge,” McRae said. “He broke down barriers, giving opportunity to those with the will, strength and tenacity to go forward.”
But there remains work to do.
“There’s a lot of instances where equality has become a reality,” McRae said. “In the big picture equality does exist. Local groups need to work towards equality becoming a full reality.”
The Rev. Robert Davis also sees inequality.
“There are voices crying out for equality for all Americans,” said Davis, the president of the Unified Robeson County NAACP. “The struggle for justice is not over. Let us stand together. We need unity.”
The Rev. Alfred Dudley petitioned for people to join the Black Caucus.
“There is still injustice in our land, our country and our county — not only for African Americans,” Dudley said. “It will be there until we’re dead and gone.”
At Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in St. Pauls, the Rev. Phillip Marks called on the congregation of about 60 people to remember how far blacks have come.
“I get most frustrated when I come into some of these churches in St. Pauls and folk in St. Pauls act like you don’t know what it is to remember, you don’t always have it the way you’ve got it now,” he said. “… If you’ve ever walked under a ‘colored’ sign you better praise God for deliverance tonight. If you’ve ever had to struggle for something, you better praise Him while you still have blood in your veins.”
Marks said Monday’s congregation was missing young people who don’t know the history of the civil rights movement. He charged grandparents in the pews to share their story with those younger than them. He also told those in attendance that God calls them to serve others, and said changes that took place during the civil rights movement weren’t started on Facebook, or “tweeted,” but began in church basements and fellowship halls.
Marks said he had a dream that this would be the last year that the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. event would have an audience that was predominantly black.
“This is not what Dr. King saw when he said he had a dream,” he said. “As a matter of fact, his exact words were, ‘I have a dream that little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white girls and little white boys,’ and one sad thing I see in here tonight, is we don’t have enough white brothers and sisters here in this room. We don’t have enough of our Indian brothers and sisters here in this room.
“I, too, have a dream that in 2014, whatever church we’re going to be in, that all sprinkled throughout the church is black folk and white folk, praising God and worshipping him in spirit and in truth, joining arm and arm and saying we shall overcome.”
The town of Fairmont’s annual event in the Heritage Center featured a reading of King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. David Walker. The event, coordinated by Annie Durant, featured the Sensational Seniors Choir, D.A.V.I.D. Praise Dancers of First Baptist Church in Fairmont and Wanda and Trinity of Fayetteville. About 100 people attended.
“I was very pleased and gratified by the turnout of citizens at our eighth annual program to honor Dr. King,” Fairmont Mayor Charles Kemp said. “He was a giant in the civil and human rights arena and his legacy of attempting to create an atmosphere of unity and brotherhood must be continued.”