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Paducah-McCracken Co. NAACP organizes MLK Day march, service

Derek Operle
More than 100 people march in midtown Paducah in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17, 2022. The Paducah-McCracken County NAACP-led march traveled a short distance from the Robert Cherry Civic Center to Paducah's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where attendees heard a program of remarks from elected officials, prayers, and songs.

Over a hundred people marched in Paducah Monday in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Paducah-McCracken County NAACP organized the event as part of their programming for the 2022 day of service.

Participants walked from the Robert Cherry Civic Center to Paducah’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where the street named after the civil rights leader begins in the city. The morning program included remarks from local elected officials and faith leaders, as well as some musical performances.

Local NAACP president J.W. Cleary gave some brief remarks, as did Paducah City Commissioner Sandra Wilson and McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer. Heartland Church Pastor Nathan Joyce and Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Donna Hawkins also gave prayers. Local singer RedVelvetTheGoddess performed a cappella renditions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Derek Operle
Attendees of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march organized by the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP hold signs as they listen to a program of remarks from elected officials, prayers and songs at Paducah's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Greater Lincoln Heights Pastor Alfred Anderson offered a call to action during his remarks. He urged everyone to get involved with the fight for progress and the advancement of social justice through civil rights.

“We started running this race for civil rights and social justice a long time ago and I must beg the question to each of us today: whose baton did you just take? Or did you just sit in the stands as a spectator? Change is not just going to happen,” Anderson said. “The change won’t just come because we are sitting in the stands, sitting on the sidelines. You have to be in the game.

“We have too many spectators just looking at the game of change rather than putting some skin in the game we call struggle.”

In doing this, Anderson evoked the theme for this year’s MLK Day proceedings: Sam Cooke’s indelible civil rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Anderson recited the song’s lyrics (“I go to the movie, and I go downtown. Somebody keep telling me: don't hang around…then I go to my brother and I say, ‘Brother, help me please.’ But he winds up, knockin' me back down on my knees.”) and remarked on their timelessness.

“I’m wondering. If I just gave the lyrics of the song to you and I asked you to give me the time in which the song was penned would we know when it was? 1964? 2004? Or 2022? Dr. King says, ‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.’”

The pastor hopes that the next generation of civil rights leaders emerges in western Kentucky.

“As we look at the great history of civil rights in Paducah, Kentucky, where is the next Curlee Brown? Where is the next W.C. Young? Who’s standing in for the next W.G. Harvey? Who’s the next Henrietta Rutter? Who’s the next Lorraine Mathis? D.H. Anderson? Robert Coleman? Oscar Cross? Where’s the next Malcolm X? Where’s the next Martin Luther King Jr.? Who is willing to get their hands in the struggle and show up somewhere?”

Anderson ended his remarks with a rallying cry for people to step up when they see injustice and to be involved in their community.

“It has been a long time coming but we know a change is gonna come,” he said. “But it won’t come until you show up … Change is not going to ride down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the wheels of inevitability. It will only come when I, when you, when me, we, gather in the struggle.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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