Martin Luther King Jr. understood the power of words inside an American system in need of change.

Orangeburg was a key player, a place with people and events that are chronicled as significant in the civil rights movement. Our home today remains a litmus test of King's dream of a colorblind society.

This is not the Orangeburg of the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s. This is Orangeburg of the 21st century, a place focused on progress to improve all lives.

Orangeburg businessman Ken Middleton is deeply rooted in Orangeburg, his father a notable figure of the civil rights era and Middleton himself a man having taken on many leadership roles.

In 2003, 40 years after King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963, Middleton delivered his own “dream” speech to the Rotary Club of Orangeburg-Morning. It focused on Orangeburg. Fifteen years later on King Day, how far have we come?

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'Oh Orangeburg! Our treasure. If only we as a community would dig deeper. I think here in Orangeburg we have the opportunity, and I think on several fronts, we are attempting to do just that. With our new downtown landscape, to our refurbished city hall, to our new crown jewel, Claflin University, we are trying and making great strides. We have indeed come a long way but there is still a way to go.

But our opportunity is much deeper. For like Claflin, our roots are deep but maybe our expectations for greatness are just not there. We are not requiring greatness ourselves, as a unified city. After all, our demographics do not prepare us for greatness, our per-capita incomes do not prepare us for greatness, our overall educational levels do not prepare us for greatness, so certainly we should settle for mediocrity because with all these strikes against us, surely greatness, true greatness cannot be in our future ... can it?

Surely it's OK to be divided by race and by class and by school and by church. Surely that's OK. After all, it's normal. It is normal, but it will not lift our city to greatness.

Oh Orangeburg! … if only every day in our city were like The Taste of Orangeburg when there's not "white" food, "black" food or Indian food, there's just good food.

Oh Orangeburg! ... if every day in Orangeburg were like the April's Gymnastics championship team pictures in The Times and Democrat, a pile of little girl smiles, not white gymnasts or black gymnasts, but our gymnasts, Orangeburg gymnasts, champions.

Oh Orangeburg! … If only all of us as leaders of this fair and beautiful city would take the "can do," no, "must be done" attitude of the leadership of Claflin University whose bold and courageous steps produced a fully integrated baseball team this year, yes, at Claflin University. Surely that can't be done, after all it's Claflin, and we know what kind of school that is. Historically black, as if we didn't know.

I would, as of this day respectfully request that each time Claflin and South Carolina State University are mentioned in the press, the names be followed by the new adjective "historically great''! They will always because of their past be historically black. For Orangeburg to prosper they must grow to become historically great! And they will know greatness is in sight when, not in a public forum, but in very private moments we share our churches and again share all our schools.

We will know greatness is over the horizon for our city when after sharing a round of golf with friends at Hillcrest Golf Club -- no, at the Country Club of Orangeburg, white friends and black friends, no, just friends -- head to each other’s homes for a bite to eat. Then, we will know.

We also know that usually it is the people on the fringes that cause the train to greatness to be derailed. If that is true, then those who are aware and sane must talk louder and do more and more. So that the middle, the core, the foundation of Orangeburg is what we become known for. So that the voices of reason, and the tasks and works of the "positive" are what is plastered across the front pages of newspapers throughout the city, state and nation.

The unseen "good" along with the "unheard from" good, must become the glaring, daring great. Our points of light must become so bright that those who would bring harm and discredit will barely if rarely be seen.

Certainly it is easier to run away and simply save ourselves. But to whom much is given, much is expected, at least that's what they say, from somewhere … Oh Orangeburg, if only!

The examples I've just set before you have raised the bar in Orangeburg and there are others. They have pushed the limits, raised the standard, shown us that despite whatever appears to have us shackled, if the leadership of this city, each of you, us, step boldly forward, there are no boundaries. Oh Orangeburg, if only.


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