LaGrange Mayor speaks at Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, January 16, 2024

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LANETT — Rev. Dr. W.T. Edmondson was the keynote speaker at Monday’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration hosted by Goodsell Methodist Church. The Lambda Zeta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sponsors the event each year. Alpha Kappa Alpha is the oldest sorority for college-educated black women. Monday was the 116th anniversary of its founding, which took place on January 15th, 1908 at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Vice President Kamala Harris is among its alumni.

Dr. Edmondson wears multiple hats. He’s the pastor of one of the largest churches in West Point, Bethlehem Baptist, owns a business, and is the current mayor of LaGrange. He was introduced to the crowd gathered inside Goodwill’s beautiful sanctuary by his daughter, Mrs. Kim Edmondson Little, who told the gathering she was proud of the fact her dad is the first African-American mayor of LaGrange but proudest that he is a man of God.

“I have always wanted to be a guest minister at Goodsell,” Edmondson said, explaining that he had some friends and relatives in the congregation.

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Goodsell has an interesting history. It was founded by newly freed slaves the year after the Civil War ended. On March 28, 1920, the original building was destroyed by a tornado that cut a 60-mile path from central Alabama to just outside West Point, destroying much property and killing 15 people. One day and 103 years later another tornado caused massive damage just outside West Point, but luckily no one was killed or seriously hurt.

Edmondson hailed Alpha Kappa Alpha’s local chapter as a wonderful, prestigious group of women, and talked about growing up in the town of Antioch in northwest Troup County. “We lived in a world of chickens, hogs and cattle,” he said. “We worked a 550-acre farm, and my dad had a service station. My aunt had a dry goods store. We pretty much got by where we were. We didn’t have to go to LaGrange unless we needed some new shoes.”

The Edmondsons were fascinated by a coming thing known as television. “We had a set with a big, round picture tube,” he said. “When we could pick up a broadcast everything was in black and white. It had what we called rabbit ears on the top and was hooked up to an antenna outside the house. To get good reception one of us had to go outside the turn the pole.”

On that set, the family got to see news broadcasts of what was known as the Civil Rights Movement. There were news stories about the Freedom Riders and the violence they were encountering in the Deep South. There was a young minister named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who sought social change through peaceful marches and non-violent protests. He saw things on TV he would never forget, such as scenes of protesters having water cannons and police dogs turned on them.

“Where would we be today were it not for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement?” he asked. “Not all black people liked him. Some of them saw him as a troublemaker. I can remember my father and other ministers sending money to Dr. King and other leaders of the movement. They wanted to keep alive the work they were doing.”

Edmondson said he is fully aware that he stands on the shoulders of great men, not just Dr. King and other leaders of the movement, but local men like Frank Hall and Donald Gilliam.

Edmondson broke precedent when he was sworn in as mayor of LaGrange. The ceremony didn’t take place at city hall. It was held on the square in downtown LaGrange.

“There was a time when my ancestors were sold on that square,” he said. “I wanted to make the point that times had changed and that a black man was in charge of that square.”

That remark drew some loud applause and some “Amens!”

The reality of Dr. King’s dream, Edmondson added, is that there no longer is a thing known as a colored waiting room.

Edmondson mentioned a story he’d heard about Dr. Joseph Lowery (1921-2020), an Atlanta Methodist minister who was prominent in the Civil Rights movement. “Back in the 1960s he was driving a white Cadillac in Mississippi when he got pulled over by a white police officer,” he said. “He must have thought it suspicious for a black man to be driving a Cadillac, and asked to see his driver’s license. He pulled out an NAACP membership card and showed it to him. The white cop gave it back to him, told him he just wanted to make sure he had a license, and let him go.”

Maintaining Dr. King’s legacy, Edmondson said, is a matter of looking past skin color to judge people by what’s inside, the kind of character they have as an individual. “We aren’t there yet, but by maintaining a strong faith in God I believe we will get there one day,” he said.

On the day he was sworn in as mayor, a news reporter asked Edmondson if he considered being mayor his greatest accomplishment. He said it was definitely a special day in this life but that nothing could top raising children and getting them to know Jesus.

Edmondson said that he had grown up poor but had never thought of having been disadvantaged until he got to college. “God blessed me with a good education,” he said, noting that one of the best lessons to learn is to always avoid looking down on people. He thanked the local AKA chapter for inviting him to speak and that it meant much for him to speak inside this historic building that had been attended by so many good people.

“Alpha Kappa Alpha is a good organization,” he said. “I urge everyone to continue praying for you and what you are doing.”

Edmondson received much applause when he concluded his remarks. He then rushed off to an MLK Day event in LaGrange.

Lambda Zeta Omega Chapter Vice President Samantha Poindexter asked active duty military personnel or veterans present to stand and be recognized along with community activists, ministers and news media people. They received appreciative applause.

Youth presentations during the morning service included a poetry reading by Mercy Bailey and a very good flute solo of “Amazing Grace” by Jayla Glaze.

Local officials making brief remarks included Mayor Jamie Heard of Lanett, Mayor Steve Tramell of West Point and Mayor Kenneth Vines of LaFayette.

A monetary donation was made to Hosanna Home, a Christ-centered, Bible-based Christian recovery home for women offering rehabilitation services.

Myron Fears & Ensemble did a lively version of “God, I Am Grateful to You,” and the program ended with everyone singing and swaying to “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem of the Civil Rights movement.