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MLK’s legacy honored in Orangeburg; street name Late councilman Owens led effort

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Orangeburg honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday by naming Amelia Street after the civil rights leader who inspired so many in the community.

“We are honoring a leader who made a difference in the lives of African Americans and all who have been discriminated against only because of the color of their skin,” Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler said during a morning ceremony.

“I say with great pride that Orangeburg has now joined cities across the nation who have named streets or highways and also erected monuments to memorialize the life and legacy of the iconic civil rights leader,” he said.

A crowd of local leaders and residents began the event by marching from the historic Trinity United Methodist Church to the King memorial at the side of the Orangeburg County Courthouse, a distance of just over one half-mile.

At the courthouse, officials unveiled an official sign for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Amelia Street name will continue to be used for official purposes, such as mailing addresses.

“This is a momentous occasion,” said Henry J. Robinson. He and his wife, Sylvia, participated in the march and attended the ceremony.

“It’s long due. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Orangeburg. He visited my church many years ago and we still celebrate him there and the things that he stood for and so we’re just glad to be part of Trinity United Methodist Church,” he said.

Trinity, which played a noted role in the civil rights era, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located at the corner of Amelia and Boulevard streets.

“It’s more than fitting that the march started there,” Robinson added.

Sylvia Robinson said, “I’m very proud to be here and give support to our council people who made the preparations to make this possible today.”

Jerrod Anderson brought his son to the event, “just to remember it’s not where you come from but where you’re going.”

“This is a great way to honor his legacy and what he stood for,” he added.

Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright Sr. explained that late councilman Willie B. Owens initiated the effort to honor King. Owens died last year at the age of 83.

“I can hear the late councilman Willie B. Owens in my head. He was for years saying, ‘Johnnie, we’ve got to name something for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’” he said.

Wright said he urged Owens to reach out to City of Orangeburg officials.

“He did and here we are today,” Wright said.

“I know there are people who say the spirit can see certain things. If it can, I know Mr. Willie B. is smiling where he’s at that we got this accomplished because he was adamant that we get this done,” Wright said.

Orangeburg City Administrator Sidney Evering II said, “This would not be possible without the vision and persistence of councilman Owens.”

In his remarks, he said, “What is a road? What is a street? A boulevard? A road is, quite simply, a way. A way that leads from one point to another.”

Evering likened King to paving the road, “in leading the country from injustice to justice, from inequality to equality, from bondage to freedom, from violence to peace, from strife to brotherhood and above all, from hatred to love.”

“Who among us can truly say (King’s) dream has been realized if we’ve gone from the back of the bus to the front of the unemployment line? Who among us can truly say his dream has been realized if we have integrated schools but segregated families and divided communities? Who among us can truly say his dream has been realized if we drink from water fountains but fail to thirst for true righteousness and justice? Who among us can truly say his dream has been realized if we have civil rights but uncivil hearts that continue to create an uncivil society?” Evering said.

“However, let us not doubt that we have certainly traveled down the long road to making his dream a reality but still undoubtedly we still have many, many more steps to take,” he said.

After the ceremony, Arminta Owens, wife of the late Willie B. Owens, said the street-naming effort and ceremony was, “a delight because Willie always thought the world of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I did too.”

“Willie B. often said, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and after cities and towns and states began to name streets in his honor, he thought Orangeburg – having so much to do with the civil rights movement – that they should have a street, boulevard, or avenue named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

She noted that early in 2022, her late husband and Orangeburg County Council began to take the steps needed to have Amelia Street named in King’s honor.

“Here today, it’s a reality. A true reality,” she said.

“I will talk to him in the house or on his bedside tonight and I’ll go down to McBranch Baptist Church, in Branchville, where he was born and grew up and share that with him by his gravesite,” she said.

Others who participated in the dedication ceremony include: Trinity United Methodist Church Pastor the Rev. Eddie Williams, New Mt. Zion Baptist Church Pastor the Rev. Todd Brown, soloist Kristen Jamison, the Rev. Jerry Govan on behalf of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Pastor the Rev. Gregory Young, S.C. Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, Orangeburg County Councilwoman Deloris Frazier, South Carolina State University President Col. Alexander Conyers, Claflin University President Dr. Dwaun Warmack and Orangeburg Branch NAACP President Barbara Williams.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD

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