Rev. Joe F. Singleton Highlights Legacy of Achievement at Celebration of 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday at Claflin

Jan 12, 2018

The Reverend Dr. Joe F. Singleton reflected on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., praised the brave men and women who fought in the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960’s and encouraged students to appreciate the freedoms that now exist as a result of King’s leadership for social justice at Claflin University’s program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the holiday honoring the iconic African American on Thursday in the W. V. Middleton Auditorium.

“We are not gathered here to celebrate this historic occasion by reflecting so much on what might have been. My purpose here today is to introduce you to the accomplishments and achievements of one of the pioneers who was instrumental in the struggle for freedom for blacks and other minorities – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Rev. Singleton, pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Williston, S.C. “We need to look at today’s society and get a grasp of today’s reality.

“You came here today on your own with no fear of being questioned by your white counterparts. You are here because of the freedom that was purchased by the blood sweat and tears of those who came before you. Last week, last month or perhaps even last year, you went to one of your favorite restaurants and you were welcomed and served with pride.  When you were sick, you went to the doctor’s office and sat where you wanted and drank from the same water fountain as everyone else.”

Singleton said that was not always true 50 or 60 years ago. 

“What if you went to those same restaurants and they said we don’t serve blacks, or if you paid your hard-earned money to ride public transportation and you were told to sit at the back of the bus?” he asked.  “And, if the bus was too crowded you had to relinquish your seat to a white man or white woman.  What if you went to the hospital and you were seen only by doctors on the late shift or attended a black segregated school where the books were handed down and were marked up?  These and other situations may seem inhumane or bizarre,” said Singleton.  “But 50 or 60 years ago these occurrences were the norm and they depicted a reality.”

Singleton served as a public and district school administrator and educator for more than 33 years.  He is a native of Bamberg (S.C.) County and a 1971 graduate of Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School.  Singleton earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from South Carolina State University in 1975.  He received his master’s degree in 1978 at the University of South Carolina and his Education Specialist degree in 1998 at SCSU. He earned a doctorate in theology in 2008 at Beacon University in Augusta, Ga.

“God always raises up leaders to assist those who are oppressed,” he said.  “That was Dr. King. Wherever there was social injustice, or political indifference, that’s where Dr. King went. He held marches in small towns and large cities. He believed in non-violent protests.  He never fought back, but he never gave up.”

Dr. King’s birthday was approved as a federal holiday in 1983. He was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta. But the King holiday is marked on the third Monday in January. Efforts to establish a holiday in his honor began shortly after his death in 1968.  By 2000, all 50 states recognized the King birthday as a government holiday.

“Dr. King represents success through perseverance. He made dramatic changes in our society in a peaceful way,” said Natrawn Maxwell, a junior mass communications major from Charleston, S.C.  “We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The challenge of our generation to pick up where he left off.”

Jessica Tolbert, a senior from Chattanooga, Tenn., said that Rev. Singleton's speech took her back in time when he adopted a cadence and tone reminiscent of Dr. King’s.

“He was right about how our generation needs to be reminded of how far we’ve come but how far we have to go,” said Tolbert, president of Claflin’s Student Government Association and a member of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College. “It’s time for our generation to step up and take action.  We are being heard on social media, but we need to do more."

Tolbert encouraged members of her generation and others to look at Dr. King's holiday as an opportunity to show love and kindness to others.

"If you are unable to attend an event, write your impressions of Dr. King or express your feelings about what’s taking place in our nation and in a journal or volunteer to help someone," she said. "Remind people that people of color can do amazing things." 


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