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King provided hope
Speakers say civil rights leader helped their struggles

Rain postponed a planned community walk to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through downtown Thomson on Monday, but it did not dampen the spirits of an estimated 150 men and women who gathered at the Thomson Depot to recall struggles of the past and those that exist today.

Milledge Samuels, Vernon Thomas Jr. and Charles Olive, all of whom have experienced many struggles over the years simply because of the color of their skin, shared various life stories with those present.

All three men -- two live in Thomson and the other in Columbia County -- witnessed firsthand what it was like to be treated differently by those in the white community, at local businesses and even in the McDuffie County courthouse.

"It gave me great hope listening to Dr. King," said Mr. Samuels, whose father owned farmland in McDuffie and Warren counties. His parents raised 10 children, and all of them worked picking cotton in the fields. They had other chores, too.

"We made a living with our hands."

Mr. Samuels, the longtime recreation director for the city of Warrenton, said he had been fortunate in many ways and sometimes not so fortunate. Nevertheless, he did not let any of what happened in his life pull him down.

He said that was partly because of what he heard from the voice of Dr. King, who at the time was the leader of the civil rights movement across America.

While picking cotton as a young boy, Mr. Samuels recalled days when he would duck down in the field and hide when a school bus drove by. The reason: He didn't want anybody on the bus to see him because some of them knew him.

"I wanted to go to school so bad," he recalled.

Work prevented that.

It was something his father instilled in him and his siblings at an early age. Work must come first, his father emphasized.

"Young people can't relate to this today," he said.

"The words of Dr. King instilled in me that there was a better day at the end of that cotton row," said Mr. Samuels.

Despite having to read books with torn pages or missing pages that had been handed down to him, Mr. Samuels succeeded and earned a good education.

At the time of the civil rights movement, he said, "white people had more than we had. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. I wanted better, too. I wanted more."

Mr. Samuels urged young people to continue to strive and work hard but to watch television less and to stay away from violent gangs.

"Let's not be enslaved by these things," said Mr. Samuels, noting that it is important for parents to get back to their roots when raising children today. "We still have struggles."

He urged everyone present to help somebody along the way to a better life, just as Dr. King did.

Vernon Thomas recalled a time when he and friends would come to Thomson to go to the movies. Because they were black, they were not allowed to go downstairs, where whites watched the movie.

"We had to watch the movie from upstairs," he said.

Segregation was everywhere -- in the schools, at restaurants and even inside the local courthouse, where there were separate restrooms and water fountains for blacks and whites.

"Thank God things didn't stay like they were in McDuffie County," said Mr. Thomas. "We can thank God for the progress made in this county. Today, we can thank God for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and McDuffie County."

When Dr. King came along, Charles Olive said, he compared him to Superman, saying, "We finally had somebody we could get behind."

As a 10th grader, Mr. Olive described himself as a freedom fighter.

"We wanted to let everybody know that we wasn't going to take it anymore," said Mr. Olive. "We was ready for a change."

Web posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011

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