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MLK Jr. Unity program celebrates African American businesses, schools

Odell Suber Jr. performs in the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity celebration. Odell Suber Jr. performs in the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity celebration.

The 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Celebration evolved to a virtual program this year with a video celebration honoring the civil rights leader and celebrating Hendersonville's community of color during Jim Crow segregation.
 
Because of restrictions on gatherings, the traditional breakfast held at Blue Ridge Community College was moved to a virtual format. The video is not live, and viewers are invited to watch from the comfort of their homes any time. The video is here.
 

Introduced by United Breakfast Chair Shirley Davidson, the program features opening and closing gospel songs by Odell D. Suber Jr., and sketches by Ronnie Pepper, who shared brief history sketches of important African-American businesses and institutions during "separate but equal" segregation. The video was made in a partnership with the Community Foundation of Henderson County.

Pepper's tour included the James Pilgrim Funeral Home, 836 Third Ave. West; the Landina Guest House, at 17 First Avenue West, which was listed in the "Green Book" African-American travelers used to find overnight lodging; the African-American section of Oakdale Cemetery; the site of the old Sixth Avenue School, which opened in 1916 and served all grades of African-American students (later replaced by the Ninth Avenue School, which served black children from three counties); the site of Buster Robinson's cab stand, first in the Green Meadows community and later on Whitted Street at Seventh Avenue West; the grill run by Estelle and Sylvester, which sold Jack cookies (2 for a penny), served chicken boxes and hot dogs and played Ray Charles on the jukebox; the more than 150-year-old Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church on Mine Gap Road and the Mud Creek Association, where migrants received education, vaccinations and health care; the Saint Paul's Episcopal Church cemetery, where black people are buried along with white people; and apple orchards in Edneyville.

"You had black people that owned orchards and farms," Pepper said. "They don't realize how spread out our (people in the) community of color are. Even though you don't see us, we're there. Just like in the history books, we're between the pages, present and working hard."

To close the 24-minute program, Terry Young read select quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. including this year's theme, "The time is always right to do what is right."

The MLK Day of Service also announced plans for this year. Several youth groups will host a short Zoom opening program honoring Dr. King’s legacy. Then, as in past years, they will gather safely with each other or their families to bag family meals of rice and beans for the clients of The Storehouse, 1049 Spartanburg Highway. The bagged meals will be delivered to the Storehouse.

Everyone is also invited to drive by the Storehouse between 1:30 and 3 p.m. to drop off non-perishable food or money to help provide food to members of our community who have been particularly affected by the coronavirus and the accompanying financial distress. Food can also be dropped off at the entrance to the St. James Parish Hall from 1 to 2 p.m.