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Celebrating MLK Jr. Day

POSTED: January 20, 2014 6:54 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Former state representative and current state transportation board member Ann Purcell was the keynote speaker for Monday’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance. Purcell pointed out that the late Dr. King’s name originally was Michael but his father changed his own name and his son’s name after returning from a visit to Germany.

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For years, Homer Wallace pushed for voting rights and to have Effingham County’s own observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Monday morning, the former longtime county commissioner and community activist was recognized and hailed for his work.


Wallace, who has stepped aside from the county elections board and from his roles with such organizations as the NAACP, was honored by the county, the General Assembly and the local NAACP for his efforts.


“He has made our state a better state, our country a better United States and our world a better world,” said Lucy Powell.


Wallace, who turned 73 years old Saturday, served for 18 years on the county commission and was the first African-American elected to serve on the board of commissioners. He also pushed to have Effingham County undergo redistricting to increase African-American participation in public offices.


“Every time I run into a previous commissioner, I want to hug them,” said current 3rd District Commissioner Steve Mason, who represents the same district Wallace once served. “Because for the last three years, I’ve learned what they have done, whether you agreed with them or not and how they voted on things. Those who take the call of elected office, you give up a lot of your time. You give up your evenings and your time with your family.”


Wallace also served on the Coastal Regional Commission and he began the annual “Feed A Kid” program, an endeavor that provides meals and activities to children during the summer.


“He is a person of magnanimous strengths with an unimpeachable reputation for integrity, intelligence, fairness and kindness,” read the resolutions passed in the state House and Senate honoring his service, “and by his example, he makes this world a better place in which to live.”


“I wanted Homer to know that we’re just so pleased to have the opportunity to present this,” said Sen. Jack Hill.


Wallace also was responsible for having the annual observance breakfast in the county administrative complex.


“It was birthed by none other than Mr. Homer Wallace, to be in this building today, and it’s a beautiful crowd,” said Guyton Mayor Michael Garvin.


Wallace, whose sometimes controversial actions also were noted, received the NAACP Leadership Award for his continued “commitment toward the pursuit of justice and equality for all people,” Garvin added. “His dedication and unselfish service made a difference in the quality of life of the citizens of Effingham County, as well the state of Georgia and the United States.”


Garvin said that Dr. King proclaimed that if he was to be called a drum major for anything, then call him a drum major of peace. He extended that to Wallace.


“You were a drum major for peace,” he said.


Lon Harden, chairman of the MLK Jr. Day Committee, also praised Wallace.


“Today we stand on your shoulders and thank you,” he said.


Keynote speaker Ann Purcell, the former state representative and member of the state technical education board and current state transportation member, stressed the importance of education.


“Education is the key. A good work force is the key,” she said.


There was a time when 70 percent of the jobs could be filled by someone who didn’t have a high school diploma, she noted.


“Not today,” Purcell said.


Harden also noted the recent loss of former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died last month at 95.


“Nelson Mandela fought and struggled and went to prison for 27 years,” Harden said. “He paid the price. He came out of prison and fought again to have apartheid abolished.”


Harden added that the community sees the results of Wallace’s efforts, even though Dr. King, who was killed at the age of 39, never got to see the fruits of his labors.


“But we see the fruits of his labors and the beatings and the water hoses,” Harden said. “Many lives have been lost all over the world for freedom. We live in a time where we can sit and down eat without the fear of someone shooting through our windows and we can live without somebody bombing our neighborhood.”

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