| 01/19/2010 06:40 AM
Story by Preston Sparks, The Augusta Chronicle
Photo courtesy of Rainier Ehrhardt/The Augusta Chronicle
At an event honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, a man who knew him well, the Rev. James Lawson, told an Augusta crowd Friday that more work is needed in the struggle for equality.
"To remember the '60s in Augusta, you have come a long way. And you have a long way to go," the civil rights leader said during the gathering, which was held at Paine College and included officials from Paine, Augusta State University, Augusta Technical College and Medical College of Georgia.
The Rev. Lawson told the hundreds packed into Paine's Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel that the civil rights movement, part of which he spent working with Dr. King, spanned the 1950s through the 1970s and "was too short and was aborted before its time by the forces of violence and racism in the United States."
"We need a fresh burst in the United States of equality, liberty and justice for all, and we the people must make it happen," he said. "Obama and the Congresses and governors will not do it unless we ordinary people are mobilized for change."
Speaking of President Obama, the Rev. Lawson -- a retired Methodist pastor and now Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt University -- said "we have every reason this year to celebrate," but added, "the white majority of this country did not vote for Barack Obama."
The Rev. Lawson also mentioned an incident in the news in which Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was quoted in a book referring in 2008 to then-Sen. Obama as "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect."
Mr. Reid apologized to the president, who said he forgave the senator.
"We will continue to have such incidents of that because racism is a fact of life in the United States no matter how much we may deny it," the Rev. Lawson said. "No matter how much we may want to run away from it, it is a reality."
The Rev. Lawson then spoke of his time with Dr. King, whose life and legacy will be honored Monday with a federal holiday. The retired pastor, whom Dr. King once dubbed "the leading nonviolence theorist in the world," recalled how he first met Dr. King in the '50s and how Dr. King asked for his help.
In 1968 the Rev. Lawson invited Dr. King to Memphis to help black sanitation workers who had gone on strike.
The day before his assassination, Dr. King delivered his famous "Mountaintop" speech in support of the strikers.
"On the last day of his life, we met early in the morning for about an hour or so of discussion," the Rev. Lawson said.
He said Dr. King's movement was about recognizing that "every human being is in the image of God and should be treated like that in all facets."
At Friday's event the crowd sang spirituals and ended with blacks and whites seated next to one another, holding hands and collecting money for those in Haiti affected by this week's deadly earthquake.
For Paine College freshman Michael Woodard, the event was a call to change for the better.
"It's up to the youth to take that step forward," he said.