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This past Friday evening, hundreds of people of all ages, races, religions and socio-economic standing came together to honor the memory of one man…Dr. Martin Luther King. Falls Park in Downtown Greenville was awash with goodwill and unity as participants celebrated Dr. King’s legacy as part of the “MLK Dream Weekend”.  Made up of business and civic leaders committed to Dr. King’s cause, this grassroots organization encourages others to “live his dream”. This Thursday, January 17, the Hyatt Regency will host the 8th Annual MLK Diversity Banquet and Celebration, with keynote speaker, Nikki Giovanni.  Ms. Giovanni, a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator, has brought attention to the Civil Rights of others for more than three decades through her outspokenness in writing and lectures. The event begins at 7PM and although tables are currently sold out, there are some individual tickets available at $60 each. For more information and ticket availability, please call 864-990-1060.

Upstate residents are also encouraged to spread Dr. King’s message through a “MLK Day of Community Service”. In conjunction with Hands on Greenville, organizers have coordinated a variety of volunteer opportunities – from beautifying lower-income neighborhoods to delivering Meals on Wheels for the elderly and homebound. The majority of these volunteer events will take place Saturday, January 19, from 9AM until noon. Families, friends and community groups can sign up to volunteer together.  For more information,  www.handsongreenville.org.

The celebration will conclude Monday, January 21 with “Dreams in Action” at Greenville High School. This event, whose mission is to spread Dr. King’s message of positive change, will begin at 8AM with a light breakfast which will be followed by the production of “One Voice” with JDew. An exceptional narrative highlighting orations from some of America’s most influential black leaders, “One Voice” is a fascinating journey through the black American experience, by virtue of eight powerful and influential voices spanning from the 1820s to present day including: Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Bill Cosby, and Barack Obama. For more information on this and other MLK Dream Weekend events, visit www.mlkdreamweekend.com.

The Peace Center will also be paying homage to Dr. King and his dream with their production of “I Have a Dream”.  Part of the center’s nationally recognized arts initiative, Peace Outreach Programs (for students grades 3-12), this compelling dramatization of the life and times of one of the most influential and charismatic leaders of the Civil Rights movement is certain to inspire young minds as they experience this great leader’s struggle and his dream of lifting “our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood”. Tickets are $9 with 10AM and noon show times on both January 23 and 24. For more information, visit www.peacecenter.org.

A must-see for locals and visitors alike 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 trip Downtown on MLK Day would not be complete without a visit to 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.

To learn more about Greenville’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and the rich history of her African-American community, here are more places you may want to visit:

Site of The Working Benevolent Temple: Located at the corner of Broad and Falls Streets, this unassuming building 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.

John Wesley United Methodist Church: Located next to the site of the Working Benevolent Temple, on Falls Street.  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

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.  This quiet, peaceful site is a reflective conclusion to your historical tour.

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