STANFORD — While Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is celebrated every year, this time around the federally recognized holiday held special significance for many in Lincoln County.
The coinciding of President Barack Obama's second inauguration with the observed birthday of the civil rights icon was noted by many who celebrated King's life during a march in the streets of Stanford and a special service at First Missionary Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
"Today couldn't be a better day to celebrate Dr. King's birthday as we also celebrate Presient Barack Obama's second inauguration," said Brenda Cofer, mistress of ceremony for the service, as she welcomed a crowd of more than 100 to the church. "Had it not been for someone like Dr. King, he (Obama) might not have had a first term, let alone a second term."
Obama was formally sworn in to his second term on Sunday, Jan. 20, but because presidential inaugurations are traditionally not held on Sundays, the daylong inaugural event, including a symbolic swearing-in, took place Monday in Washington, D.C.
Cofer, a lifelong writer, shared a page from her teenage journal with those congregated in Stanford Monday — a page she wrote the day of King's assassination on April 4, 1968.
"Oh my God, he's dead. Dr. King is dead. I can't believe someone shot him," Cofer read. "He gave me so much hope that things would be better for me than it has been for my parents. I even dared to dream he could be the first black president."
Remembering King with a memorial service is one way the community can transform King's teachings into action, said Jacqueline Walker, a speaker during the service.
"Dr. King preached love and peace; he called for social justice and opportunity," she said. "He asked that we would come together and bridge our differences and work in unity."
A group of about 30 braved freezing temperatures prior to the service and marched down Stanford's Main Street with signs celebrating freedom and the spirit of King's messages.
Upon arriving at the church building, which was formerly a black school during segregation, attendees found signs in many doorways and in the sanctuary designating "whites" and "colored" areas.
Cofer explained that the signs were put up as a reminder of how far the U.S. has come since "Jim Crow" laws forced a separate life upon people of color in the 20th century.
"These (signs) probably made some of you mad, confused some of you," she said. "Some of you probably obeyed them and some of you probably did like me and said, 'hmmm,' and came on in. Some of you are still looking for seats in the colored section and some of you are probably still looking for seats in the whites section.
"Sit wherever you can find a seat," she continued, and was met with a round of amens and affirmations.
"This is the reason that Dr. King marched," Cofer said. "This is the reason that he lost his life — he wanted that freedom for us to walk through any door, sit in any seat and be treated as equal."
The centerpiece speaker of the service was Elder Jerry Wilkinson of Stanford, who talked about the need to know someone's story before you can really know them personally.
"Sadly, in all our lives, color has become an issue, by identification, acceptance, rejection," he said. "…a premature view of one's character is often determined by the color of one's skin."
Wilkinson said it's important to remember that many people of many different races and backgrounds were and are supporters of the civil rights movement. Even former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's father was considered a civil rights supporter, he pointed out.
"We must never forget that we didn't march or die alone," he said. "We must respect the honor and honor the sacrifice of others made against injustice."
Wilkinson said there are unfortunately still examples of racism even today, but there are also whole communities that stand up and "sound the alarm of outrage" when racism rears its head.
Despite the many obstacles that remain to unity and equality, the re-election of Obama is proof the civil rights movement is succeeding, he said.
"Whether you agree or disagree with the direction he's taking this country or which way it's going, we should give the man the respect the office deserves," Wilkinson said.
Among other portions of the service, Heritage Hospice Community Provider Liaison Sharon Martin presented Korean War veteran Albert Taylor, a black man, with six medals for his service that he had not previously been presented, despite having earned them.
"He is one of the reasons along with other veterans why we sit here today and have freedom," Martin said.
Taylor, who spent two seven-month periods in combat in Korea, said he was grateful to his family for their support when he was deployed and now that he is home. Today, he still has "flashbacks" but his wife loves and takes care of him, he said.
Wilkinson closed his speech by encouraging everyone, regardless of race, to "be respectful and tolerant to one another."
"Remember," he said. "Racism and hatred barely affects the vessel onto which it is poured, but totally destroys the vessel in which it is stored."