LUMBERTON — Just as Peter and the disciples of Jesus risked their lives to spread the gospel, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. risked his to spread the message of justice and equality.
That was the message delivered Monday by the Rev. Frederick Culbreth during the Martin Luther King Celebration at First Baptist Church in Lumberton. The event was sponsored by the Robeson County Black Caucus and drew a near capacity crowd that included many representatives of local governments and many candidates in the upcoming general election.
Culbreth drew his message from Acts 5:27-29. The biblical story recounts threats and intimidation meant to stop the disciples from spreading the message of Jesus.
They did not stop. They were “outlaws for justice,” Culbreth said.
Culbreth is a military veteran who ministered a church near St. Pauls for six years before taking the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
“Imagine if they had stopped, and imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. decided to keep quiet,” he said. “They refused to stay quiet. He refused to stay quiet.
“Because they spoke out, we are able to speak out. They were listening to a higher power.”
The event’s theme was the journey for civil rights continues, and it was reflected in the lyrics for the opening hymn: “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Among the lines were: “Out from a gloomy past, let us march on till victory is won. Let our rejoicing rise high.”
The rejoicing reached the rafters as the featured speaker of the hour-long celebration brought the audience to its feet with a call-and-response finish.
“Thank you Dr. King for speaking up and being an outlaw for justice,” Culbreth said.
In the audience were top officials from the Lumberton City Council, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, the Public Schools of Robeson County, the Lumbee Tribe, local courts and the District Attorney’s Office. All were recognized, as were the people running for office in the Nov. 3 election.
The Rev. Jimmy Gilchrest, Black Caucus president, presided over the celebration. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been a federal holiday since 1983, and Gilchrest said every one is an “historical day.”
The First Baptist Church on Second Street is an historic institution that was founded in 1922. It has been a focus for spirituality and political activism, and Gilchrest reached out to energize voters for the Nov. 3 election.
“This is an important election for the White House and your house,” he said. “Let’s plan to get out the vote.”
Lumberton City Councilman John Cantey also spoke, giving a welcome from the city.
Echoing the event theme, he said, “The struggle for equality is an unending pursuit for justice and equality.”
“Many achievements have been accomplished over the 50 years, including black doctors, lawyers, elected officials and even a president who looks like us,” Cantey said. “We did not do it alone. We did it with the help of people of other races and nationalities.
“Disparities continue in economics and politics. We have experienced the slow crawl of recovery from two hurricanes.”
“Where do you stand today” Have you done enough?” Cantey asked. “We must pledge to work even harder in the future.”
The First Baptist Church’s children’s choir provided entertainment, and the event ended with the first stanza of “We Shall Overcome.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day, is a federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929.
King was a leader in the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. A Baptist minister and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King had led the civil rights movement since the mid-1950s, using a combination of impassioned speeches and nonviolent protests to fight segregation and achieve significant civil-rights advances for African Americans. His assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, led to an outpouring of anger among black Americans and a period of national mourning that helped speed the way for an equal housing bill that would be the last significant legislative achievement of the civil rights era.
The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
King The Rev. Frederick Culbreth, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, speaks Monday during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The event took place at the First Baptist Church on Second Street in Lumberton and was sponsored by the Robeson County Black Caucus.