Valley seniors hold annual program for Black History Month

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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VALLEY — Valley seniors celebrated Black History Month Monday morning with singing, scripture reading and a talk by retired educator and Lanett School Board Member Katie Walton.

Despite some rainy weather, there was a good turnout inside Valley Senior Center for the annual program.

“I hope we all enjoy this and maybe learn something we didn’t know,” program emcee Alice Hall said in opening the program.

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Senior Center member Ruby Holloway got things started with some powerful versions of “Right On, Jesus” and “Soon We’ll Be Done With the Troubles of This World.” Orema Foreman followed with the 23rd Psalm.

Former Chambers County School Board Member Brenda Jones introduced the speaker of the day. She said that Katie Walton is the kind of person where if you call her she will be right there to help you in any way.

“She’s a good friend,” she said. “She’s a member of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, the Order of the Eastern Star and the Chambers County Education Retirees Association. She will be talking to us about black history today. Believe it or not, we have a lot of it in Chambers County.”

“I thank Alice Hall for inviting me and thank God for that introduction,” Walton said. “It is a blessing to be active. Each year, we celebrate Black History Month in February, and it’s something we should celebrate every day.”

Walton said the big statue of boxing legend Joe Louis Barrow outside the Chambers County Courthouse is something really special. She said that everyone from Chambers County should be proud that Joe Louis came from here.

Civil rights in the U.S., she said, isn’t something that happened overnight. In the 1950s and 1960s, it took marching, sit-ins and boycotts to reach the national conscience and to bring about change. Fifty years ago, there were no black elected officials in Chambers County and throughout most of the South.

“Black people had no representation,” she said. “Today, we have blacks on the Chambers County Commission and on city councils in LaFayette, Lanett and Valley. We should never forget that lots of tears were shed to get to where we are today. In the past, it was very hard to vote. We had to have court orders to allow blacks to register to vote.”

As a little girl growing up in Birmingham, Walton said she could remember her father trying to memorize the U.S. Constitution so he could get registered.

“Belief, hope and faith are things we should never lose,” she said. “Over time, we have been called colored, black and African American. What really matters is that we are children of God.”

Walton said she can remember when Birmingham had a director of public safety named Bull Connor. A staunch segregationist, Connor is famed for having used police attack dogs and for turning fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators.

During this era, Walton can remember having had to walk through white neighborhoods to get on the bus. Then came the bus boycotts and having to find other means of transportation.

“It was very hard for us to have equal rights,” she said.

Walton said that African Americans from Alabama left a legacy for all people to be proud of.

“We are proud of Joe Louis, Jessie Owens and the Tuskegee Airmen,” she said. 

She said she was proud of Marian Anderson, a critically acclaimed opera singer, who overcame Jim Crow Era prejudice to sing before an integrated crowd of 75,000 people in an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939.

“You all remember Jackie Robinson and how proud we were of what he did don’t you?” she said.

In 1947, Robinson became the first African-American to play major league baseball. He’s now in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.

Walton said the struggle for equal rights transcends time. Sojourner Truth of the 1800s and Rosa Parks of the 1900s were heroines in this struggle.

“They were committed to doing what was right,” she said.

Walton said that blacks have made major contributions in the field of medicine. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931) overcame racial discrimination to perform the first successful heart surgery in the U.S. in 1893. He founded Provident Hospital in Chicago, the nation’s first non-segregated hospital in the U.S. In the 1980s, Dr. Donald Hopkins directed the world-renowned Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

A little-known historical fact in the local area is that the former Drew School in the West Shawmut community is named for an African-American doctor.

“Many of you thought we’d never live to see a black president, but we did,” Walton said. “Barack Obama completed two terms and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. We thank God for what we have lived do see, and we have hope for an even better future. We have seen the rising sun and will march on until victory is won. There are brighter days ahead for us all if we have the courage and strength to face tomorrow.”

Senior Center Director Melissa Pitchford thanked everyone for turning out on a rainy morning and thanked Walton for her comments.

“We are all free and equal, and that’s the way it should be,” she said. “Let each one of us get along and lead a Godly life.”