Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 50 years ago. Monday, his legacy in words and actions was celebrated, in honor of what would have been his 84th birthday.
Charles Coate told the crowd at the annual Effingham County Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance breakfast that reaching out to others exemplifies Dr. King’s tenets.
“We should come together in that legacy of service,” Coate said. “Dr. King said, ‘Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.’ Dr. King believed that through service to others, we can build a better world. We can make a difference in the community we call home.”
Coate was born in Selma, Ala., a pivotal city in the civil rights struggle, and grew up in Thomaston, Ala. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from Tuskegee University. A 33-year veteran of the paper industry, he joined the Georgia-Pacific Savannah River Mill four years ago.
“If we work together, that is what will make a better world,” he said. “We think of that every day at Georgia-Pacific.”
The Savannah River Mill has a diversity council, and Coate said the nation’s differences in backgrounds and upbringings should be celebrated, rather than divide Americans.
“Our ability to change, adapt, manage and thrive is based on the talents of our employees,” he said. “The broader the background of our employees, the better we’ll be able to adjust to change. Dr. King understood the value and power of people living together and working together.”
Lon Harden, chairman of the MLK Jr. Day Observance committee, said the paths that have been paved must not be forgotten.
“It had to start somewhere, and it started with the civil rights movement. We sometimes take for granted where we shop, where we worship,” he said. “The struggles and challenges and obstacles created the diversity we have today. This is what Dr. King fought for, what he went to jail and what he died for.”
Coate noted that one of his uncles is married to the sister of civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy, who was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with Dr. King.
“I grew up getting a lot of advice,” Coate said. “Sometimes more than I wanted.”
But one of the things Rev. Abernathy taught, Coate said, was always reach to help others.
Coate also wanted to know what cause the people in attendance would take up as their own.
“Dr. King wanted to be remembered as a drum major — a drum major for peace, a drum major for justice, a drum major for righteousness,” he said. “This is a day to remember that legacy. But for what cause does your drum beat?”