March takes on King’s ‘hills and valleys’

Marchers make their way down Main Street in West Point.
Staff Writer

“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” the last speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was blaring from the loudspeaker on the back of a pickup that was leading the band of about 70 marchers.

Roxie Quinn was laboring a little.
It seemed almost cruel that a road builder years ago had put a slight hill along Highway 50 just east of Highway 45 Alternate where Old White Road intersects.

The hill might have been slight but after 1.7 miles walking in the cold, Ms. Quinn’s 67-year-old body was feeling it just a little.
“But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop,” resonated the recording of King’s speech. reaching out across the crowd and to those in traffic watching the procession.

Quinn walked near the rear of the bundled-up throng who braved 32-degree temperatures to make the 2.2-mile walk from East Half Mile Street along MLK Jr. Drive, along Main and fittingly, to the gym on the campus of the former historically black Mary Holmes College.

“One last hill,” a walker said to Quinn, who has come from Chicago for several years to celebrate her mother’s birthday on Jan. 18 — Friday was her 89th — and then take part in West Point’s King Day march and celebration.

“It’s Mississippi, life is full of hills and valleys to climb … God will see us through, God will see us through it all,” Quinn said almost metaphorically.

This year was the 30th anniversary of West Point’s celebration.

Traditionally the march has turned from Main onto Commerce and gone to historic Central School. But with structural issues closing that old building, the destination was moved to Mary Holmes, making it a little farther.

In Quinn’s mind, the extra distance is much like the extra work still needed.

“He died for freedom and equality,” she said of King. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, we must keep the dream alive.
“With God’s help we will,” she continued, referring to a number of incidents across the country, including President Donald Trump, to illustrate the work she thinks remains.
 Her uncle, 85-year-old Odell Quinn, also has been a long-time participant.

“I lived in Chicago for 32 years and moved back here. Been walking in this every year since,” he said.
He could have caught a ride in a church bus but made the entire walk, no matter how slowly, to the end.
“Can’t quit now,” he declared.

“My sister and I are all that’s left of our big family. We’ve got to carry on the legacy,” he added, referring to the sister who celebrated her 89th birthday Friday.

For a younger crowd, the walk and King’s message was a little more basic.
“I like to celebrate people who do the right thing,” 10-year-old Tyqwez Bean said as he walked. 
“I think it’s still special what Dr. King did for everyone and that these people will come out a celebrate it year after year,” added 20-year-old Dee Boone, who came from Starkville to walk.

Still others just happened to be in the right place or the wrong place, depending on your perspective.
“I’m caught and can’t do anything about it. I’m not real happy, did we really have to do this,” groused one man as he sat clinching his steering wheel blocked at a stop sign.
He wouldn’t offer his name.

“I got caught in the traffic. I’d forgotten about it and since I was stuck anyway, we decided to get out and watch,” said Debra McDonald as she and a friend stood on the sidewalk on Main Street as the police cars, fire trucks and marchers slowly went by.

“Standing here, it does make you think about it all. I probably don’t look at things, about all our relations enough. I think we all just get too busy,” she added.
“I know I do and I feel bad about it,” added her friend. “The problem is this doesn’t last every day, every month. We just get busy again.”

Others wanted to take part to support something simple.

“A friend asked me to come walk. I said yes. After all, that’s what it all boils down to, being friends, helping friends,” said Woody Woodruff.

“I found it all very refreshing, invigorating, the walk, what it’s all about. If you get all tied up in politics, of being Democrats or Republicans, we are missing the point. That’s what keeps getting in the way,” stated Eva Barnes as she made her way back to her car.
Anna Jones helps organize the annual event. Her husband, lawyer and City Judge Bennie Jones, carried the lead banner this year.
 This was her 23rd year to walk.

“We have to keep walking, year after year. Too much can be lost and too much still needs to happen,” she said.