Friday, January 18, 2013
Goose Creek Mayor Michael Heitzler was barely out of his teens on April 4, 1968, working at a store in Hawaii.
When the news came over the radio that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, the magnitude of the loss was hard for the young Heitzler to immediately grasp.
That’s when the owner of the store – a Japanese immigrant to the U.S. – took the time to talk to his young employee, and share his deep feelings about Dr. King and his cause. It was a conversation that the future mayor would never forget.
Four decades later, Heitzler knows well what the owner of the store knew – that on April 4, 1968 the United States lost a great leader.
On Sunday, Heitzler was the keynote speaker at the first of several community gatherings that will honor Dr. King in the week leading up to his national holiday on Monday.
The tribute took place at Goose Creek United Methodist Church. The service was one of several taking place throughout the Lowcountry in a region-wide celebration sponsored by the YWCA of Greater Charleston.
Dr. King’s contribution to the country cannot be overstated, Heitzler said. “Many young folks don’t understand how far Dr. King has carried us, and the gifts he has left,” he said.
The slain leader rooted his movement for Civil Rights in both the teachings of Jesus Christ and Gandhi, Heitzler told Sunday’s rapt audience. “King found success in non-violence by rooting his movements in the fundamental tenets of Christianity,” the mayor said, “and he was murdered for it.
“Dr. King said that everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You only need to be full of grace and have a soul generated by love.”
Heitzler reminded the gathering that Dr. King was blessed to be raised in Atlanta by educated parents who made sure their son was educated as well. “He had higher education opportunities that he took advantage of,” Heitzler said.
Dr. King’s detractors were many, and they included some ministers on the same side of the Civil Rights struggle as he – yet he never wavered. “Sometimes,” Heitzler said to applause, “you have to stand firm.”
The message of Dr. King is never far from the mind of South Carolina’s newest U.S. Senator, Tim Scott, who preceded Heitzler at the podium.
“Every Sunday, my 92-year-old grandfather and I get together,” Scott said. “My, has America changed. Never could he have imagined a President Barack Obama, or a Senator Tim Scott.
“The path is always paved in advance … and that path was paved with blood and tears.”
Scott, a Republican, told attendees that he often speaks with Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights legend John Lewis, a Democrat, in Washington.
“Our politics are a little different, but our goal is the same,” Scott said. “What John has taught me is the exact same thing that my grandfather taught me … ‘without the miracle of God, the journey is not possible.’”
As he looked at the audience, Scott said he was “excited to see a community coming together” to honor Dr. King. “The greatest days of our country are still before us,” he said to applause.
Before his keynote address, Heitzler presented the Andrea Glover Matthews Award to Minister Kenny Johnson, the president of Goose Creek Concerned Citizens.
Heitzler credited Johnson “for keeping the dream alive in our community.”
The award is named for the late Andrea Glover Matthews, who was the first president of the Goose Creek NAACP. Glover Matthews’ daughter, Sharina Haynes, presented the award with Heitzler.
Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson was the master of ceremonies. While America has made great progress, Thompson said, “I understand that more needs to be done.”
Goose Creek NAACP President David Cakley addressed the audience, as did Goose Creek Clergy Association President the Rev. Frances Debra Dowdle of Goose Creek UMC.
Dr. King would have been 84 years old this year.
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