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MLK’s life and legacy honored with march, interfaith service in Wheeling

Photo by Shelley Hanson Dozens of people participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration’s march in Wheeling on Sunday.

WHEELING — Community members celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and civil rights work with an annual interfaith march and church service on Sunday.

Dozens of people gathered at the top of Wheeling Hill on Martin Luther King Way to march down to the Fourth Street United Methodist Church. The church is where the service took place, with several local clergy taking to the pulpit to preach.

Sen. Owens Brown, D-Ohio, West Virginia’s first Black state senator, was the keynote speaker for the event. He said he was involved with organizing Wheeling’s first interfaith march and MLK celebration many years ago. He also remembers King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1968.

Brown said there continue to be many “dark days” in America, referring to bigotry, hate and violence against people of different races and religions. He noted King “spoke truth to power” and provided “moral clarity” during his marches and speeches. Brown added that the United States needs its leaders to also speak truth to power today.

“Everyone seems to have their own truth,” Brown said, adding he wondered if King’s message would be distorted by social media if he were alive today.

Brown noted, however, that King reminded people that hope is not lost.

“Even on the darkest nights the stars shine the brightest,” Brown said, quoting King.

Brown was introduced by Darryl Clausell, president of the West Virginia NAACP.

Also during the church service, the 2022 Martin Luther King Honorees were given their awards. The late Rev. Daniel Mason was posthumously given the MLK Award. Wheeling resident James Martin also received the MLK Award.

The late Florence Washington posthumously received the Rosa Parks Award. Wheeling resident Rosemary Ketchum, a city councilwoman, also received the Rosa Parks Award.

Before the service’s start, Martin said he was happy to receive the honor.

“I’m excited about being an honoree. I never thought it would happen to me, but it did,” Martin said. “It’s one of the highest honors I could ever receive in my lifetime.”

Martin is a Vietnam veteran who worked as a mailman for 40 years. Between 1973 and 2011, he was the only Black letter carrier in Wheeling. As a member of the Elks Panhandle Lodge 74, Martin helped raise money to help minority students attend college. He and his wife of 45 years, Donna Jean, have four children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Martin is also credited with restoring American Legion Post 89’s respectability after it was declared a public nuisance by the city.

Among the dignitaries in attendance was U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. Prior to the service, McKinley said he remembers seeing and hearing King’s speech at the March on Washington. He said he periodically likes to read the text of King’s speech. King, he noted, was about “doing the right thing” – a trait McKinley said more political leaders should share.

“We could all learn from him,” McKinley said of King.

The event was moderated by Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom. Other religious leaders who preached included the Most. Rev. Mark Brennan, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston; the Rev. Chris Figaretti, pastor of Vineyard Church; the Rev. Kenny Hardway, pastor of First Christian Church; the Rev. Jake Steele, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church; and the Rev. Yvette Taylor, pastor of Wayman AME Church.

Remarks were also made by the Rev. Neil Leftwich, superintendent of the United Methodist Northern District, and the Rev. Paul Schafer, pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church and president of the Ohio Valley Ministerial Alliance.

The organizers also took a moment to remember some local community members and leaders who had died recently including Mason, Ron Scott Sr., Bill Hogan, Dr. Carlos Jimenez and Sister Christine Riley.

MLK’s birthday is observed today and is a federal holiday. If King was still alive today, he would be 93 years old. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

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