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Challenge to work for the best for all placed at MLK Celebration

Rev. Dr. Lawrence McNeill Dowdy  

Laurinburg, N.C. – “We must work for the best for all people. The King holiday is best when it is used to combat bigotry. We weaken the significance if we just see it as another day off from work. We need to have an honest conversation about that issue which is always in the background.”

The Rev. Dr. Lawrence McNeill Dowdy presented this challenge to the more than 275 in attendance during the St. Andrews Presbyterian College 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration in Avinger Auditorium Monday evening. The Rev. Dr. Carl Walters, recently retired Warner Hall professor of religious studies at St. Andrews, brought a moment of reflection at the start of the program from his personal experience with King.


“I met Dr. King in March of 1968 in Memphis,” Walters said. “He was there to join those striking sanitation workers. I was a professor and a member of a biracial committee to foster racial equity. I was marching with Martin on March 28 with the peaceful demonstration turned to a violent conflict. I was at Mason Temple, seated in the second row, on April 3 when Martin gave his final, and what turned out to be his farewell speech, ‘I have been to the mountain top.’ He spoke these words, fitting for all of us to hear, ‘Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness… to make America what it ought to be.’”

This inspirational remembrance flowed comfortably into the challenges presented by Dowdy in his keynote address. After sharing the words from Acts 17, Dowdy told the story of his first march. “On that morning, when my mother got me up, she told me we were going to a march,” he recalled.

“At 7 or 8 years old, I didn’t know what a march was so I asked her. She said it was something like a parade. I knew what a parade was. I had an image in my head of walking down Main Street with people on all sides cheering.”

The trip for the family to Laurinburg that day was filled with excitement for Dowdy, who had never been in a parade before but had seen his older sisters in them. But as he noticed there were no floats and no cheering crowd, he held his mother’s hand and gave a squeeze to get her attention in order to ask where the people were.

“There were tear streaming from under her cat woman glasses,” he said. “I knew not to ask. We made it down to the courthouse and prayer was offered. We then walked quietly to our cars. In all the years since 1970 I have never asked my mother anything about what had happened. I knew it was something life changing that had happened there. I knew that those people, for all practical purposes, were trying to turn the world upside down.”

The goal of turning the world upside down is one that Dowdy continues to hold in his heart.

“I still want to make a difference,” Dowdy said. “We have President Obama in the White House. We have Gov. Bev Perdue in the State House. We have a little boy who grew up on Sandhills Road, the young man holding his mother’s hand, speaking on a college campus. How will we use our great opportunity to make things better?”

A dance performance by the Umoja Dance and Drumming Troupe and musical performances by the Cool Springs United Methodist Church All Male Choir, Bill Caudill, Bill McConnell and Sean Moore added to the celebration.

“I hope that we have all been inspired to rededicate ourselves to what is right,” said St. Andrews President Paul Baldasare. “Let us focus on this day of national recommitment to the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

The national holiday marks the birthdate of King on the third Monday of every January. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating the holiday on Nov. 2, 1983, in a special ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. King was the chief spokesman of the nonviolent civil rights movement. He was assassinated in 1968.

About St. Andrews Presbyterian College

An innovative and bold academic venture, the distinctive character of St. Andrews has been marked by an interdisciplinary curriculum, a highly acclaimed college press, an award-winning pipe band, national champion equestrian teams, and first-rate scholarship. In addition to classes on the main campus, adult learners also choose the Center for Adult and Professional Studies opportunities through St. Andrews @ Sandhills and St. Andrews ONLINE.

On Aug. 29, 1958, the merger between Presbyterian Junior College and Flora Macdonald College became official with the formation of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. Further information may be obtained by visiting the College's website www.sapc.edu, calling 800-763-0198 or sending an e-mail to info@sapc.edu.


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