Marlboro County Branch NAACP President Pearlie Lawson was 12 when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.
“I could never forget how sad I was as a child crying because I knew something was wrong,” Lawson said. “We cried and we prayed. We will never forget what Dr. King meant to us.”
The Marlboro County NAACP and community pastors held a prayer vigil Wednesday night to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of King.
NAACP member Gwendolyn Dixon-Coe reminded those in attendance that even though they had lost Dr. King, they hadn’t lost the dream.
“When you leave, leave with the mind to continue the legacy,” she said.
Various pastors shared what happened to King on April 4, 1968.
It was after 6 p.m. when King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck.
In the months before his assassination, King had become increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America.
He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracial Poor People’s march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers.
On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.
On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
One day after speaking those words, King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C.
On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Ga. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules.
During the vigil, five candles (representing 10 years since King’s death) were lit. As each one was lit, members of the Bennettsville Fire and Police Departments rang a bell.
Afterwards, various people in the audience shared what they were doing on the day King was assassinated.
Evelyn P. Williams was at Claflin College in Orangeburg. “We went to the student center and that’s where we learned it. I will never forget that day,” she said.
Pastor James E. Douglas was a fourth grader at the time.
“I didn’t know the significance or the impact of what had taken place,” he said. “In my house, my mother began to cry.”
Later the audience sang “We Shall Overcome” and ended the event with a prayer.