Two sheriff’s deputies filed statements dated Jan. 18 alleging McKenzie used racial slurs in reference to black people during his official capacity of serving warrants on behalf of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
So far, McKenzie has neither confirmed nor denied using the derogatory term.
But, the evening was not about the councilman. It was a celebration of black history and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that was founded Feb. 12, 1909.
The event was held at the Bradley Cleveland Senior Activity Center.
Keynote speaker Bishop G.R. Hill, pastor of Church of God Sanctified, reminded the audience of about 150 people that the evening was a time of remembering the struggle, honoring the faith and living the dream.
“We ought to be a very appreciative and grateful people due to the Lord’s goodness, the Lord’s grace and the Lord’s mercy,” he said.
He spoke of being an extraordinary people with a rich heritage, though it is not a perfect picture of joy, peace or respect. “It is riddled with suffering and agony, scars, ridicule, hurt and pain, but we’ve also been enriched by special personalities who have made great sacrifices so we could be here today.”
The struggle for equality has been passed down from generation to generation, the speaker noted. The faces and places constantly changed, but the vision and the mission have always remained intact. He reminded his listeners they did not get to where they are by depending only upon themselves.
“You did not get there by yourself. There were blacks and whites and various individuals who helped you get to where you are today,” he preached. “We all stand on the shoulders of individuals who paved the road before us.”
The bishop made six points during his 15-minute speech. He urged listeners to remember where they came from.
“Take some time to talk to a senior citizen, someone who was around before cellphones and computers,” he said. “Let them inform you of the struggle, the faith and the dream so that you will know what it’s all about, because you can’t remember something that you never knew.”
He told them to honor those who worked to move the country to where it is today; and third, live a grateful life.
“We’ve got too many people living on Complaint Boulevard,” he said. “We have people who do not want to work. They act like work is a dirty four-letter word, but you ought to do it, you ought to teach it and endorse it before your children and grandchildren — get out and do something!”
Fourth, he told them to respect their fellow man and woman. “How can you receive respect if you don’t give it? Quit calling women girl dogs and quit spreading false rumors about our neighbors. Many times we become our own worst enemy. You need to respect your fellow man and fellow woman. Our parents and grandparents always told us that if you can’t say anything good, then don’t say anything at all, and keep your mouth shut!”
The fifth point was for everyone to treat themselves well.
“You are somebody in, through and by the Lord Jesus. I knew I was somebody (long) before Jesse Jackson ever said it because my Mama and my Daddy told me I was somebody,” he said. “Your body is still the temple of the Holy Ghost and you and your family deserve better than to have fathers who abuse their bodies and mothers who abuse their children. Freedom is not a license to do just anything you want to do. Guard your heart and gauge your tongue.
“And more importantly, number six, love God above all,” he continued. “First seek ye the Kingdom of God and all these other things shall be added unto you. Praise Him because He gave you life and He made you whatever you are today. I’m glad the Lord sent people by to help me and help you and help us.”
The Bradley County Branch of the NAACP was founded by a group of 60 people at College Hill School, which is now College Hill Recreation Center. Dr. Harry Johnson served nearly 10 years as president. Ollie Bond was vice president and Howard Thomas was treasurer.
The Rev. James Parris succeeded Johnson. Other presidents included Drew Robinson, J.R. Bridgeman, Gene McKissic and Calvin Crawford. In 2003, John H. Peterson took it upon himself to ensure the branch was re-chartered. He and Regina Piersaul sought the leadership of its current president, Lawrence Armstrong. Armstrong assisted interim president and Charleston Mayor Walter Goode in rebuilding membership and reorganizing the local branch.
Third Vice President Demetrius Ramsey said during the welcoming address that a seed was planted 104 years ago with commitment, with hope and with faith. That seed grew into a tree and that tree yielded fruit.
“We stand tonight because of the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters who have gone (passed) on, and those who serve today, but more important because of the grace and mercy of a Savior who brought us to this point,” he said.
Teen Learning Center Principal Barbara Ector, who co-pastors Unity Christian Ministries with her husband, Aubrey, was mistress of ceremonies. She said people know of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
“We know of them, but there are so many people that you know, that no one else knows. No one knows your grandmother who stayed up at night. No one knows your mother who went without eating so you could eat. No one knows the fathers who worked two jobs to send their daughter to college — no one knows my Daddy — but I know he worked two jobs to get me where I am today. I thank God for the people we don’t know,” she said.
Ector said Johnson, Parris, McKissic and Armstrong, and other leaders of the local NAACP were not always looked upon by everyone in the community as being good people. And, there were others of every color who wanted to see things done the right way “and risked their own reputation and livelihood to get some of us to where we are today.”
Others participating in the program were Hiawatha Brown, who outlined the purpose of the occasion; RaSharon King, who introduced the program; Karla Scaife, accompanied by her mother Celeste, amazed the crowd with her voice; the Rev. Dr. Terril Littrell made the membership appeal and chapter President Lawrence Armstrong gave the closing remarks.