Jackie Rogers, who has lived here since 1980, grew up in Georgia in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement began to take shape. He walked with about 40 others from Mount Emory Baptist Church on South Church Street to the MLK monument in Community Park in blistering cold temperatures this afternoon.
Rogers, who is the great-grandson of an ex-slave, says he dealt with total segregation growing up, from different bathrooms for blacks to “back of the bus” rules. He says he was one of thousands to walk in the important Selma to Montgomery March in Alabama in 1965.
“That’s when I really began to understand that America had a long way to go, when I seen the things that I seen with my own eyes that I didn’t see on television,” he says. “How cruel we can be against one another, how we need to come together and work together and learn how to love one another.”
As for today, Rogers says Jacksonville has a long way to go when it comes to the civil rights battle. When he goes back home, he sees integration, something he says is lacking locally.
“You don’t see black [teachers] in the school district. You don’t see them in the police department, the fire department, and that’s really sad to see for all the sacrifice made throughout America for this opportunity, in this town,” says Rogers. “I look at Jacksonville, [which has] the Underground Railroad and that great history of being a part of the civil rights movement, but now you don’t see it. There’s some good folks in Jacksonville; there’s some folks that understand we need to do that work, and I think we need to get united together and do it.”
While the numbers for this year’s march in Jacksonville were down, Pastor David Stewart of Mount Emory Baptist Church had no problem with the cold weather. He was more than happy to honor a man who he says put up with a lot more than cold weather to get his message out.
“Martin Luther King means unity in the community. He needs opportunity for everyone, he means a lot of things that people strive for- that we can achieve our dreams and our goals if we just work together to achieve them.”
Stewart says this year’s march was significant because it will be 50 years in April since Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
A Martin Luther King Celebration Service will begin at 5:00 this evening at Mount Emory Church.
Dr. Jeanelle Norman, president of the Decatur branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will be the keynote speaker. She’ll talk about the efforts the NAACP makes in today’s world to improve the lives of minorities.
“To get parents involved in their educational system and to understand we need parental engagement," says Norman. "Not just learning about something at a PTA meeting, but actually having that connection in the school with the teachers, with the principals so that you can work collaboratively in order to help your child become successful."