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‘From the plantation house to the White House’: MLK remembered in Waynesboro

Photos by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Sounds of worship echoed from St. James Baptist Church in Waynesboro Sunday.

Participants praised God and a man who did God’s work in his 39 years on Earth. Yesterday would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 94th birthday.

The Waynesboro branch of the NAACP hosted a celebration of the man who said: “I just want to do God’s will.”

Rev. Earl Pendleton of Union Baptist Church in Waynesboro preached from the Book of Joshua, Chapters 1 to 5, and how the Israelites found strength to go on after the death of their leader Moses.

“I’m honored to join you today to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I know that you would agree with me that the significant qualities of this special man cannot be underestimated or taken for granted,” Pendleton said. Within 13 years, King was “a drum major for racial justice and equal opportunities for all Americans, especially for Black Americans.”

King led the American Civil Rights movement when Black Americans were considered second-class citizens to whites.

“But, because Dr. King dreamed the impossible dream, because he fought the unbeatable foe, because he struggled with his last ounce of courage, we are the recipients of a better life, of greater opportunities,” Pendleton said.

How do we honor King in the 21st century?

Chapter 1 of the Book of Joshua was text to a people long ago, according to Pendleton, that can help us today to honor King.

“And that message is: We must find the strength to go on,” he said. And “go on” is a command which means to persist and to endure despite challenges.

Pendleton said go on describes the Black experience in the United States as a story of hanging on despite struggles and not giving up.

“From the back of the bus to the front of the bus, from the plantation house to the White House,” Pendleton said. “From being sidelined observers to being active participants.” The journey has never been easy, but Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington, King, former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder and former President Barack Obama forged a way to go on.

Rev. Earl Pendleton of Union Baptist Church in Waynesboro was the NAACP’s guest speaker Sunday.

“I want you to know that this came with some hardships,” Pendleton said.

God gave Joshua a message hundreds of years ago: do not give up. God will come to us in times of crisis and speak encouragement. Moses died at a critical time for the people of Israel, when the second phase of their journey to freedom was about to begin.

The United States has lost leaders at critical times. But Joshua was told to stop grieving, because he had a job left to do: go on.

“Rosa Parks never gave up. She kept on riding. Dr. King never gave up. He kept on marching. President Obama never gave up. He kept on politicking.”

In 2023, how do we go on? God will speak words of assurance.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, no matter what happens from day to day, we must go on. No matter who tells you you can’t make it, just go on. No matter how dark the way may seem, just go on.”

The pilgrimage of Blacks has been marked by tragedy, but we must trust in God’s promises.

The Waynesboro branch of the NAACP invites the public to march today at 2 p.m. from Waynesboro City Hall to Rosenwald Community Center.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.