By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
January 16, 2023
A crowd numbering more than 200 local citizens gathered at the Lewisburg United Methodist Church to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Keynote speaker Crystal Good told the crowd, “We have made progress, but we have so much room to grow.” She lamented the high rate of black incarceration in West Virginia, saying that while black citizens comprise 3% of the population in West Virginia, they account for 11% of the incarcerated population. She believes the problem begins at younger ages, with black children being suspended and expelled from school at disproportionate rates.
“Let’s be holy hustlers, standing together for the rights and dignity of all people!” she told the crowd, to sustained applause. “Like Bricktop was,” she said in reference to former Alderson resident and famous entertainer Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, better known as “Bricktop.”
Good also serves as owner and publisher of Black by God, a West Virginia newspaper and multimedia journal dedicated to issues facing black Appalachians. In reference to recent firings of journalists in Charleston, Good said the First Amendment and freedom of the press are under attack in West Virginia. “The fourth estate, the press, must hold our government accountable.”
Other presenters included High Rocks Academy, the Resurrecting Praise Community Choir, and winners of the student essay contest Alahni Viney & Meryl Wadsworth.
Chris Winston and Wanda Johnson made a special presentation to the family of Steve Rutledge. Currently in hospice care, Mr. Rutledge is a long-time leader of the MLK Committee who first worked in the Civil Rights Movement alongside Medgar Evers. He drove Martin Luther King, Jr. to the funeral of Medgar Evers after he was assassinated in his driveway in 1963. Mr. Rutledge moved to West Virginia in the 1970s to work on housing, labor, and economic issues. He led the planning of this event for several decades, impressing upon the community the importance of making it a “day on, not a day off.”
Prior to the ceremony, participants marched from the courthouse to the church. Blue Moon Bagels catered a meal for the community. Citizens broke bread together and discussed how to make King’s dream a reality in today’s world. For five-year old student Malakai Triplett, the answer is simple. As his sign proudly says, “I love everyone.”