Congressman James E. Clyburn addresses 44th annual John D. Marshall memorial freedom fund gala

Published 1:01 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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The Sumter County NAACP held the 44th John D. Marshall memorial freedom fund gala on the campus of South Georgia Technical College. Bethany Greeley, president of the non-profit Heart of Sumter, gave the welcome.

Americus City Councilmember Kelvin Pless also gave a welcome to Congressman James E. Clyburn on behalf of the Americus City Council, adding: “We must not lose sight of the moral imperative to uphold civil rights for all our people, as failing to do so will ultimately harm all of us. Congressman Clyburn, I want to express my gratitude to you, for what your role was being the catalyst and driving us to the polls to save us from that undesirable disease of Trumpitis. Furthermore, I want to welcome Congressman Clyburn on behalf of the sixth Episcopal district of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

Afterward, Sam Mahone gave an update on the restoration of the Americus Colored Hospital. “I represent the Americus-Sumter County Movement Committee. We organized initially as a group of veterans of the Americus Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.” He talked about the vision for the facility: “As a reimagined facility it will become a civil rights and cultural center with a permanent collection gallery featuring exhibits to educate visitors throughout the history of the civil rights struggle in Sumter County Southwest Georgia and the Nation.”

Charmaine Edge, secretary of Sumter County NAACP presented scholarships. “Our first scholarship award is sponsored by Procter and Gamble. This individual has been accepted into Fort Valley State University and will major in criminal justice. Our second scholarship award is sponsored by Phoebe Sumter Medical Center. This recipient has been accepted into Valdosta State University with a major in history and with a focus in African-American studies. This scholarship is awarded to Miss Aaliyah West.”

Reverend Ezekiel Holley gave the invocation. Congressman Sanford Bishop introduced Congressman James Clyburn, remarking on how he had become a leader in the NAACP in his teens: “He was a teen president of his Sumter NAACP in South Carolina. Can you imagine a teenager leading the chapter? He did.”

Bishop talked about Clyburn’s influence, praising his skill as a legislator: “He’s a mentor. He’s a counselor. He’s a friend. He’s an advisor to presidents. Some say he’s a president maker.” He talked about how he was co-chair of the Biden-Harris campaign, stating “he is committed to getting the message out about what the Biden Harris administration has done for this Country.”

After the introduction Clyburn addressed the crowd, starting by telling the story of The Good Samaritan from the book of Luke. He told how the victim of a robbery and mugging was discovered by the head of the temple, who he likened to a preacher. Clyburn told how the preacher abandoned the victim. He then told of the next man who found him, a temple assistant, who he likened to a deacon, who also failed to help. He then told how someone who was not even Jewish, a Samaritan, found him and ministered to him.

Clyburn noted three lessons that stood out to him from the text: “The first lesson that I get from this, is that being one’s neighbor, has nothing to do with church membership.” He told how the head of the church and deacon did nothing. “But a second lesson that I learned from this is being a good neighbor does not require being of the same ethnic background.”

He then drew a third point from the good Samaritan taking the time to get off his donkey in order to minister to the man. “But the third lesson that I get from this story, is that being a good neighbor requires that sometimes you get down off your high horse.”

Clyburn related the story to modern affairs: “Our Country is at a crossroads. Our country is in need of neighbors. Our Country, could fair well be at its ending, as a Country, if we are not careful about decisions we make this year.”

He urged congregations to take their congregants to the polls. “I’m not asking you to tell them how to vote. They ain’t crazy.” He also urged the fraternities and sororities to each adopt a precinct. Clyburn mentioned that he was a 33rd degree Mason, urging the lodges to help in the effort. “You want the Lord to make you an instrument? You ask the Lord to make you a tool to be used to get people to the polls.”

He compared the current struggle to reconstruction. “Those forebears of ours in 1876 were coming out of slavery just 10 years earlier. They did not have education.” He contrasted that to modern voters. “They were ill equipped to deal with what happened to them but you are not. You’ve got wealth. You’ve got education. You’ve got good health. It would be a sin and a shame if you allowed this day, this year, to come about, and the clock get turned back, and your children will have to experience that which you experienced, and your parents experienced.”

Eugene Edge, president of the Sumter County NAACP, presented the 2024 black business of the year award to Dorothea’s Beauty Salon. Edge presented the citizenship award to two individuals, Silas Bullard and Craig Walker.

Edge presented a certificate of appreciation to Teresa Mansfield. “Since I’ve been president this person as an individual, not as a business, but as an individual has been the biggest financial [contributor] to this organization.”

Edge presented the dedication award to secretary of the NAACP Charmaine Edge.

Edge then gave the president’s award to Mathis Wright, praising his win in federal court fighting against Gerrymandering of Board of Education Districts.