Commentary: The King Celebration Goes to the Very Roots of Fernandina

By Linda Hart Green

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2009 marked my first visit to Amelia Island. My husband and I had just concluded attending a conference on St. Simons Island, and we were heading to central Florida to visit some family members. A mid-January break in the sunshine was needed for this tired pastor. Plus, my husband’s birthday was coming up. It would be a double celebration.

A friend suggested we take a detour and check out Amelia Island. She knew we were starting to consider places to retire, and she thought we would like it. Turns out she was 100% correct, but I am getting ahead of myself in the telling of this story.

We were going to stay at the Hoyt House but it wasn’t yet time to check in. We decided to get a quick lunch before touring around. We looked across the street from the inn and saw the precursor to Tasty’s. The name escapes me. It was not memorable, unlike the current occupant of that corner. (See Dylan Bailey’s review of Tasty’s from Jan.13 in this publication.)

We were happy to be able to sit outside in January. Soon, we heard music and cheering approaching. To our surprise and delight, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade came right by us! We stood up, pausing in our less-than-memorable lunch to join the cheering and clapping and waved to the passing participants. What a serendipitous moment!

I was feeling a bit guilty for missing the big King Day celebrations back in our town in New Jersey.

My church and a neighboring black Baptist church had started the annual events in the early 1980s shortly after commemorating when Dr. King day became a national holiday. The celebration had grown to a breakfast with speakers, followed by a large interfaith worship service with a booming men’s chorus and a symbolic march. It was often too cold or too snowy to march too far. There were lectures in the afternoon and special programs for children and youth. It was an event all year in the planning.

Being a bystander for this lovely albeit much smaller parade in the sunshine warmed my body and soul. I mentally checked a box for Amelia Island. I could live in Florida in a small town that had a parade for Dr. King! We were intrigued as we learned more about the rich and diverse history of this island with indigenous and black and Spanish peoples. And yes, traffic in enslaved peoples was part of the history, too. Finding the gem of the history museum checked a box for my husband. He was a history buff with a particular interest in and passion for the history of the civil rights era, having been a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama during the time of the Freedom Riders. His witness to those events in the late 1950s and the subsequent violence in the segregated South changed the course of his life and career. As time passed and we moved here, he became a docent at the museum and a re-enactor in the role of David Yulee. Sadly, he can no longer fulfill those meaningful volunteer opportunities due to declining health.

I don’t know how many towns in Florida have parades and other events for Martin Luther King Day. I am guessing not too many. People enjoy the holiday, to be sure.

Other than a day to rest and shop, do they understand the many sacrifices made by Dr. King and all the heroes and heroines of the civil rights era?

Do they understand how necessary it is to celebrate those gains even now as those hard-won rights are being dangerously eroded? Do they understand how important it is to protect and support our island’s economic, racial and cultural diversity? It is easier to appreciate the natural beauty all around us and enjoy a quaint downtown.

Our sand and soil, streets and pathways are steeped in history deep with meaning. Black people were free here. Black people were business owners and church builders. Black people had a special beach that was all their own, filled with joy and jazz and laughter. Black people were smuggled here from their native lands and traded as property. If you have not done so, take a moment to drive to Old Town and read the commemorative plaque about that site being a port of entry for enslaved people. Pause. Look out across the river and imagine the scene.

In the fall of 2013, Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee nation came to Old Town to have a celebration of that port of entry. A fairly small group of us gathered with her. The Peck ensemble sang, “Down By the Riverside” as Queen Quet placed the first of 50 white carnations in the river, marking the 50 nations of origin in Africa of the enslaved people. The rest of the carnations were passed out among us. We wept and joined in the singing and watched the current carry away the carnations, just as the slave traders had carried away the people.

Let’s treasure our rich and diverse history and keep it alive in the present by participating in our annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

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Noble Member
1 month ago

“Do they understand how necessary it is to celebrate those gains even now as those hard-won rights are being dangerously eroded? Do they understand how important it is to protect and support our island’s economic, racial and cultural diversity? It is easier to appreciate the natural beauty all around us and enjoy a quaint downtown.”

So how exactly are these “Hard-won” rights being dangerously eroded?

The only thing being eroded by the woke left is the concept of judging people by the content of their character. It is open season on judging people by the color of their skin these days.

Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago
Reply to  WaynesBit

To answer your question, hard-won rights are being eroded by legislators making it more difficult to vote by moving precinct boundaries around so people of color have less voice, by purging voter roles indiscriminately that affects people of color the most by far, by shutting down precinct that are predominantly in Black neighborhoods, by disallowing someone other than the voter to turn in a sealed ballot envelope, and by making it illegal to give someone a bottle of water when they’ve been standing in a precinct voting line for three hours in the hot sun. The Department of Justice imposes fines on banks in this country on a monthly basis for redlining. Examples racism and discrimination continue in every aspect of our society. The first step in correcting a wrong is to recognize that the wrong exists in the first place.

Noble Member
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Thanks, Mark. Not to mention women’s right to choice as well.

Bill Fold
Noble Member
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Unless you can back up those statements with proof then all of them are patently false. Voter rolls have to be periodically purged, precinct boundaries change because demographics change, and when and where was the last time a voting precinct was shut down?
I could say all voters were disenfranchised because of ballot harvesting but we all know that would be unprovable – without video proof. But wait, someone did video that very thing, but there again, how do we know it was fake ballots?
One could also say Claudine Gay was hired because of the color of her skin, but resigned because of the content of her character. Would that be truthful? Maybe.

Jay Kayne
Trusted Member
Jay Kayne(@jay-kayne)
1 month ago
Reply to  WaynesBit

Mr. Bit, did you forget Dr. King was in Memphis to support a garbage workers strike when he was assassinated in April 1968? The strike focused on the fact the municipal government did not provide a living wage for the mostly African-American workforce. The current Supreme Court has eroded the right of workers to organize by continuously siding with big business when it comes to labor issues.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jay Kayne
1 month ago

I really enjoyed this article and I love our community. It saddens me that everything has to turn political instead of just rejoicing in the steps we have taken. It’s a beautiful day when a hometown parade encourages a visitor to stay. Thank you for sharing ☀️

Jo-Ann Leimberg
Jo-Ann Leimberg(@jo-ann-leimberg)
1 month ago

After readign Reverend Green’s piece, I wanted to see when our observance was taking place. According to the city website, I see Fernandina’s parade is scheduled for Wednesday the 17th from 12 – 1. Does anyone know why it takes place on a day other than the 15th?

Kathy Blacklock
Active Member
Kathy Blacklock(@blacklock)
1 month ago

The city’s website shows the parade date as today, January 15.

Richard Timm
Trusted Member
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
1 month ago

Lynda, you thoughts are always welcomed. Thank you.