Civil rights leader returns for King Celebration

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nan Orrock — who participated in Lunenburg County’s civil rights struggle in the 1960s and is now a Georgia state senator — is this year’s Martin Luther King Celebration speaker at Kenbridge’s Mt. Bethel Baptist Church.

Orrock said the gist of her speech at the program, being held 2 p.m. Saturday at the church, is that the struggle continues and we should all get involved.

“The long sweep of the civil rights movement in America teaches us that ordinary people can make history, that organizing to build a fuller democracy can win real victories and that defending freedom and liberty is an ongoing effort, generation after generation, in order to protect and expand equal justice for all,” Orrock said. “Our efforts were not in vain but the battle must continue, with young leaders stepping forward to take up the cause. Today’s Black Lives Matter movement is yet another expression of ability of activism to change the public conversation and get much-needed change in our justice system.”

Orrock knows something about the civil rights struggle, and particularly Lunenburg’s. In her senior year at the University of Mary Washington, she helped plan a civil rights project in six Southside counties with high black populations, low black voting rolls and history of extreme prejudice — including Lunenburg. She would eventually spend 18 months after graduation leading anti-racism projects in the region. The efforts included starting Freedom House in Victoria, where black and whites did civil rights work, led by Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne.

Rev. C.L. Hobbs, pastor of Mt. Bethel Baptist Church, and member Wanda Morrison, said the theme of the program is history, and they hope it shows people that it wasn’t just the efforts of well-known figures such as King or high-profile struggles such as in Selma, Ala., that won civil rights. Local efforts may have been overshadowed, but they were just as important to the success of the movement, they said.

“I think people need to remember the life and legacy of Dr. King,” Morrison said. “But along with Dr. King we had local people who were following his lead.”

Indeed, Morrison is helping plan a 50th anniversary march for Saturday, Aug. 13, to commemorate the one from August 1966 over voting registration. That march took 290 people — 180 children and 110 adults — along a four-mile trek from Victoria’s First Baptist Church to the courthouse and concluded at nearby Tussekiah Baptist Church.

The march is one that many locals don’t even remember, Rev. Hobbs and Morrison said.

Rev. Hobbs said it is important to remind children of the earlier efforts, the sacrifices that were made, and what can be accomplished, even in a small community.

“It’s very important everybody know what happened in Lunenburg County made a difference today,” he said. “Children need to know what they are doing today didn’t just happen.

“It was one of the greatest movements in a small community,” he continued. “It was amazing.”