Whidbey community gathers for MLK event

Cleveland Riley of Freeland was the featured speaker at this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration in Freeland. - Bert Speir photo
Cleveland Riley of Freeland was the featured speaker at this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration in Freeland.
— image credit: Bert Speir photo

A gathering of the Whidbey Island community nearly filled St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to celebrate and commemorate the Christian nonviolent, activist witness and leadership of King and the thousands of students, sharecroppers and preachers who were active participants. This movement led to greater social, economic and political inclusion in America.

The main focus or theme of the King commemoration was the “Letter From the Birmingham Jail.” A descriptive narrative accompanied excerpts from the letter read by EPF members and St. Augustine youths from the pews and choir loft.

The homily was given by Cleveland Riley. From his rural Louisiana upbringing and family experiences, Riley shared the humiliation and pain of segregation and racism. He told of relatives traveling long distances without the expectation of staying in a motel or eating in a restaurant. A black person could never be assured he would be accepted at motels or restaurants in states where “white” and “colored” signs reflected the rule of law. The car trunk for a lengthy trip contained ice chests packed with food, and the family drove without stops for food or lodging.

Riley also recalled exhibiting considerable emotion, the hated but necessary social customs of stepping to the side or even off a sidewalk when a white person approached, or calling every white person “Mr.” or “Mrs.” while adult African Americans were called “boy” or “girl.”

He also shared his personal joy on hearing John Lewis speak in Seattle. Lewis, now a Georgia Congressman, was a student leader during the movement and spoke from the same podium as King at the March On Washington.

Music was a major part of the service. Karl Olsen of Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland led the gathering in singing gospel music. Among the songs were “What Can One Little Person Do,” “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” A trio of Trinity Lutheran youth choirs also sang a gospel song.

The St. Augustine’s Choristers sang “Standing in the Need of Prayer” and “This Little Light of Mine.” The Choristers also sang short verses of “Hey, Hey is Anybody Listening” between readings.

The service concluded with a reading of a portion of the “I Have A Dream” speech. The gathering then clasped hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

The St. Augustine’s Episcopal Peace Fellowship, which sponsored and planned the service, also fed approximately 95 individuals in the undercroft prior to the service.

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