‘Support behind unity’

Published 3:57 pm Monday, January 16, 2012

Michelle Miller, portraying Fannie Lou Hamer, talks to the audience about her struggles attempting to become a registered voter. But she also talked about her will to achieve her goal. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

A round of applause opened the Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration in Tryon Saturday, Jan. 14 as Tryon resident Peggy Carter walked across the stage carrying a sign that simply read, “We are all the same on the inside.”
The applause didn’t stop there. Instead it kept the event moving as audience members showed support for one another and for Dr. King’s legacy throughout the evening.
“We always think of the people on the front lines,” said Dr. Joseph Fox, president of the Thermal Belt Friendship Council. “Often we forget all those people in the background of the movement, supporting those on the frontlines; pushing the movement forward.”
Those in the background included the three women featured at Saturday’s event – Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height and Ella Baker.
Michelle Miller, playing Hamer, reminded audience members of the struggle to gain voting rights. She passed the tests required, she provided the documentation needed, but still she faced friction as she attempted to obtain her right to vote.

Audience members clap and sing along as the Unity Choir performed “Soon-a Will Be Done With the Trouble of the World.” (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Dorothy Height too felt the sting of discrimination early in life when her best childhood friend told her they could no longer play together because Height was “colored.”
Rev. Eleanor Miller brought Height’s lasting pain to life as she said, “That hurt was a hurt I never wanted another child to feel.”
So Height pushed back. She was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but was denied entrance because the school “had already met its quota of two black students” that year.
She instead pursued her degrees at New York University, earning not only a bachelor’s degree but a master’s degree in educational psychology in 1933. Height eventually served as president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and used that position to fight for equality not only for African Americans but for women as well.
“We were held captive by the attitudes that caused me to lose my best friend,” Height said. “As long as those attitudes existed we could never be free.”
For five decades, Ella Baker took up the fight. Baker worked many years as a journalist for the Negro National News before joining the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League. Baker worked alongside civil rights leaders W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr.
Tameeia Brown portrayed Baker in Saturday’s event.
The Thermal Belt Friendship Council also took time during the commemoration Saturday to honor this year’s Friendship Council Scholarship winner, Kari Malkki, who wrote her essay about diversity in her own life. Malkki thanked the council and audience members for their support as she plans her future.
“Thank you all so much,” Malkki said. “You have no idea how much this means to me. This is the first scholarship I’ve applied for and I will never forget your support or this night.”
The Thermal Belt Friendship Council is a nonprofit organization that aims to foster unity throughout the area. There are no membership fees, just a request for willingness to support one another. The group meets every second Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Roseland Community Center.
For more information, visit friendshipcouncil.homestead.com or call Fox at 828-669-7318.