By Bobbie Poynter
The Knox County Courthouse doors were opened wide Monday as more than a hundred Knox County residents passed through at the end of their march from the Union Square Shopping Center in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
Before introducing the event’s guest speakers, Dora Oxendine Farmer, president of the Democratic Woman’s Club, asked the crowd a question Martin Luther King had once asked, “What are you doing for others?”
“Through their acts and deeds,” she said of the guest speakers, “they have lived those words.”
Irma Gall of Lend-A-Hand told the guests that she was sad that this was the first year since 1966 that she had not been able to march. The marches, she said, were not always quiet and peaceful, but she and her fellow marchers followed the words of Dr. King.
“What do you do when the fire hoses are on you, the dogs are barking at and threatening you, and the police are shoving guns at you?” she asked. “Dr. King said we sit down and we sing. And that’s just what we did. Even though there wasn’t always a lot to sing about, we’d sit down and sing.”
Gall laughed along with the crowd as she spoke of a bounty that had once been placed on her head. After being whisked off to Washington, D.C. by the FBI, Gall refused to say away and insisted she be returned to Knox County.
“I came back and lived through it,” she smiled.
Retired pastor Charlie Douglas quoted from Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time for everything.” Bro. Douglas agreed. Now is the time, he said, for freedom, for justice, tolerance, and now is the time for “us white folk to tolerate you black folk and visa versa.
Bro. Douglas then challenged everyone to begin trusting one another again.
“If ever there was a time we needed faith,” he said, “it’s right now.”
Gary Ferguson, the current Bell County jailer, is no stranger to stepping up and standing out for what he feels is right. His mother, Marie Ferguson, was the first African American to ride a float in the Mountain Laurel Festival Parade, and in 1973, Ferguson himself became the first African American to attend Bell County High School. Now, after 143 years, Gary Ferguson is the first African American to win a county-wide election in all of southeast Kentucky.
“Everyone needs to set a example,” said Ferguson. “I set an example every day.
“I can remember when it was an embarrassment to want to take something for which you didn’t actually work,” he said. “People worked to get off everything that meant. And I can proudly say that in the whole time I was at Bell County High School, I never heard the ‘N’ word one time. I think a large part of the reason for that was that I was never the type of person who went looking for someone to always do something to me. I was a student at Bell County High School.
As publisher and general manager of the Pineville Sun for the last 12 years, Ferguson said he has never been one place where he had been afraid to go.
“I felt that if I was prepared mentally to do whatever it was I was going there for, I could blend in and do anything I wanted to.”
“You have only two choices in life,” said Ferguson. “You either quit or go on.”
The Rev. Andrew Baskins told the group, “We’ve got to achieve a world perspective. You’ve got to stop just thinking about yourself and being a part of Barbourville, Knox County, and that’s it. We have to develop a world perspective. We have to be concerned about other individuals and other nations, because if we don’t, we’re sleeping through a revolution.
“The world we live in now is a global village, and the great challenge for us is to make this village one that built on brotherhood and sisterhood. Now we have to develop a moral and ethical commitment to create a better world. We must all learn how to live together, because if we don’t, we will all perish together as fools.”
Barbourville resident William “Scotty” White marched in the parade alongside his friends and listened intently as each of the speakers took their turn at the podium. The speakers, he agreed, were inspirational, but there was something else about the crowded Knox County courtroom that had drawn his attention.
“The thing that impressed me most was all the children in here,” said White. “It’s so important that the children learn about what happened back then so that they can understand what is happening today. We know, but we won’t be here forever. They don’t know it, but today was an important lessen for them.”