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{January 13, 2012}   Living Dr. King’s Dream in Downtown Greenville

It’s been over 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King shared his Dream with the Nation. This weekend, Greenville will honor Dr. King with “MLK Dream Weekend”. This organization of business and civic leaders committed to Dr. King’s cause encourages others to “live his dream”. Tonight, TD Convention Center will play host to the MLK Diversity Banquet and Celebration with guest speaker, Roland Martin.  This dinner event will begin at 6:15PM and will include pre-dinner entertainment provided by Whitney Walters and Groove Planet. An after-party will follow with host Vicky James of 107.3 JAMZ. This Saturday from 10AM until noon, Upstate residents are encouraged to participate in a Day of Community Service in conjunction with Hands on Greenville. Volunteers will work at various project sites throughout Greenville County. Families, friends and community groups can sign up to volunteer together. The celebration will conclude Monday with “Dreams in Action” at Greenville High School. This event, whose mission is to spread Dr. King’s message of positive change, will include workshops,  entertainment, community service projects and lunch for the participants. For more information on this and other MLK Dream Weekend events, visit www.mlkdreamweekend.com.

If you can’t make the Dream Weekend festivities, you can still pay homage Dr. King and his Dream. An excellent place to start is at the corner of Washington and Main Streets in Downtown Greenville. This seemingly ordinary street corner, which is currently the site of building projects, played a remarkable and very important role in Greenville’s Civil Rights Movement. This was once the home of the Woolworth’s building and was the site of “sit-ins” and student protests against segregation in the 1960’s.  Many of the students involved, including Greenville native, Rev. Jesse Jackson and museum curator, Ruth Ann Butler, attended Sterling High School. A memorial to these courageous students now stands on the site. The life-size statue by artist Maria Kirby Smith depicts two African American students (a young man and a young woman), walking down the steps from Sterling High. The site also contains a memorial marker honoring Sterling High itself, which burned in 1967.

If you continue south down Main Street and turn east onto Broad, you will find two more places that played an important part in the history of Greenville’s African American community. The first, located at the corner of Broad and Falls Streets, was once the home of the Working Benevolent Temple. Constructed in 1922, this 3-story, brick building played a vital role in the development of Greenville’s African American business district for over 50 years by providing office space to many of the community’s professionals. It was designed, built and financed by the Working Benevolent Grand State Lodge of South Carolina, a health, welfare and burial benefit society.

Next to this prestigious site (on Falls Street) is the John Wesley United Methodist Church. Organized in 1866 by Rev. James Rosewood, a former slave, this church was one of South Carolina’s first independent African American congregations after the Civil War. The current church was built between the years of 1899 and 1903 and is an excellent example of the Gothic Revival style. John Wesley Methodist has long been the epicenter of Greenville’s religious community and, along with the Working Benevolent Temple, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A must-see for anyone living in or visiting Downtown Greenville is the Greenville Cultural Exchange Center, located at 700 Arlington Avenue. Founded in 1987 by Ruth Ann Butler, a former history teacher and participant in Greenville’s Civil Rights Movement, this African American history museum and cultural center is dedicated to the preservation of Greenville’s rich multi-cultural diversity, contributions and accomplishments. The Center provides a haven of historical reflection, research and education through exhibits, archives and guided tours. The Resource Center contains biographical sketches, news articles, tape recordings, photographs, and letters of prominent African-Americans, available to visiting scholars, students, and the general public.

A reflective conclusion to your historical tour can be found at Richland Cemetery, located on Stone Avenue near North Main. In stark contrast to the elegant opulence of nearby Springwood Cemetery, this small area is the simple yet dignified final resting place of some of Greenville’s most prominent African American citizens. Many of the graves contain no markers or homemade gravestones, while others are marked by stones proudly proclaiming the person’s accomplishments and status in the community.  A tour through this quiet, peaceful place will show you how far Greenville has come…and how far we have yet to go to attain Dr. King’s Dream.

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