The thermometer showed temperatures in the 20s and the wind was so frigid it froze condensation on Tommy Williams’ mustache, but that didn’t stop nearly 100 people from taking to the streets of Tullahoma Monday morning for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.
The march is hosted annually by the We Care Committee and area churches hoping to unite people with the mission and legacy of King on the national holiday designated in his name.
The holiday is set for the third Monday of January each year, which can coincide with the late Civil Rights activist’s Jan. 15 birthday. Originally signed into law in 1983, the holiday was not officially observed in all 50 states until 2003, when Utah officially recognized the day.
The day routinely inspires marches for peace and recognition of King’s legacy during the holiday, with some higher educational institutions participating in what is called the Martin Luther King Day of Service. During the Day of Service, thousands of individuals volunteer for organizations around the country to serve others.
Each year’s march has grown slowly, according to We Care Committee President Paul Cooley, and he takes that as an encouraging sign that people are inclined to come together more than they are to remain divided.
“As Americans, we’ve got a lot of issues going on in our lives and a lot of differences, but there’s some times when we can come together and just think on touching somebody else’s life,” he said to the gathered crowd before they took to the streets.
“We’re going to set aside our petty differences … to be one in this country,” he said of the symbolism of the march. “Hopefully, this is going to encourage you to do some things in the community. That’s what I really want to do, is be encouraging to touch someone’s life – be of service. When you see someone down, do something that’s going to lift them up.”
The crowd started the annual march at C.D. Stamps Community Center on South Jackson Street, bookended by members of the Tullahoma Fire Department. While singing gospel hymns together and huddling close to keep warm in the biting wind, the group moved slowly up South Jackson Street before convening at city hall, where short prayers were held for the city and the people of the area at large.
Once prayers were held and messages of hope and kindness were spread by Cooley and the Rev. Steven Hovater, of the church of Christ at Cedar Lane, the group made its way back down Jackson Street to return to the community center for fellowship and some much-needed heat.
After the march concluded, Cooley said he felt this year’s group was almost as big as last year’s, if not larger.
“I don’t know what the number is, but I feel like it was as good as last year,” he said.
Having everyone come together that morning, despite the below-freezing temperatures, displayed to Cooley that the “spirit of the march” was alive and well and spreading throughout the community.
“There was a whole lot of cooperation,” Cooley said. “Everybody was, it seems, real good, and it was done in the spirit that it was intended to be. Because of the spirit of things, it came out the way it should be.”
Cooley said he was encouraged by what the committee and the churches were able to pull off this year, saying it was a good indication that the people of Tullahoma could come together and do amazing things.
“If we can get together and do things like this without a whole lot of planning, there’s a lot of things we can do if we just set our minds to it,” Cooley said.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.