Claflin University remembered a trailblazer of the civil right movement and looked to the future at Thursday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
This year’s theme was “We Have A Great Deal of Positive Work To Do.” The Rev. Dr. Joe Singleton, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Williston, was the featured speaker.
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve been to the mountaintop,” said Singleton, quoting King. “I’ve seen the promised land.”
“We come on this occasion to celebrate the life and the legacy of one who went before us,” he said.
Singleton welcomed all – students, staff and others – to honor the past but look to the future.
“We are gathered here on this morning on this historic occasion not to do speculative reflection on where we have been or to use our illusory imaginations of what we hope for,” he said.
“We are gathered here to recall, we are gathered here to reflect, we are gathered here to re-appropriate the ‘was-ness’ of yesterday, the’ is-ness’ of today and the ‘not-yet-ness’ of a hopeful tomorrow,” Singleton said.
He said he was present to talk about a pioneer and to “suggest that we take advantage of those freedoms which were purchased for us through the toils and labors of those before us.”
The speaker compared today’s society to that of 50 years ago.
“You came in here this morning on your own, not worried that you’d be questioned by your white counterparts on the cause of your meeting here,” Singleton said.
Such a thing is possible because of freedom gained by the “blood, sweat and tears of those who went before us,” he said.
In using transportation to get to the event, “you sat where you wanted to sit without question,” he said.
At restaurants, “you were welcomed and you were served with pride,” Singleton said.
He recalled other changes – equal service in medical treatment, no separate drinking fountains and restrooms, integrated schools.
“What would you do if you went to a restaurant for an evening meal and the owner met you at the door and said, ‘We don’t serve blacks,’” he said.
“What would you do if you paid your hard-earned money to ride on public transportation and after paying your money, you were told that you had to sit at the back of the bus?”
“What would you do ... if you applied for a managerial or office position at a major plant or company and you were told that you were only qualified as a laborer, no matter how much education you had?” Singleton asked.
"Or if you were told you were going to be hanged from a tree simply for whistling at a white woman," he added. Some 60 years ago, these events were reality, Singleton said.
He talked of personal experience with racism – of him and his siblings first being denied entry, then eventually attending an all-white elementary school, of a restaurant visit on a class trip where he and his teacher were made to leave the premises.
“But let me give you my testimony,” Singleton said. “Because of what I went through, I know what it is like to be called names that don’t look like you. I know what it is to be titled with negative descriptions that don’t even define you.”
He said he knows what it is like to see people fake care and concern for him and what is is to feel hate expressed toward him.
“But I want you to know this morning, Claflin University, I am a living witness that regardless of what people may say or do, with God’s help and guidance, you can still be successful and be just what you want to be,” Singleton said.
“And those who try to block you path will eventually become your steppingstones."