PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - A local man started following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and carried on his legacy after his assassination by pushing for a national holiday in his honor.
“I was a student at Shaw University in Raleigh and Dr. Martin Luther King taught a lot of his early workshops training for non-violence for participants,” said Reverend Aaron Johnson. “I had the privilege of attending some of those workshops.”
North Carolina-native Rev. Johnson recounts his first meeting with King, a relationship that would see Johnson march alongside King in the hopes of creating change through peace.
Then, King was assassinated.
“Obviously, the day he was shot and killed, I was very upset.”
But his message lived on and Johnson rallied with others who shared his vision.
“We got together and decided we would walk through the city of Fayetteville trying to carry out Dr. King’s wishes. One thing we knew, based on what we’d been taught by him, was that he did not want violence.”
Along with countless others, Johnson continued to carry the banner for civil rights and equality. That path would lead him and other African-American leaders to meetings with President Ronald Reagan.
“He met with the committee to talk with us about how we felt about the Martin Luther King holiday and of course we thought it was a grand, great idea.”
There was plenty of opposition to recognizing King’s birthday as a federal holiday. It wasn’t until a year after Reagan’s pitch that he would actually sign the proclamation
Now 35 years later, the country honors King’s birthday through a national holiday. Even with the recent social and racial unrest, Johnson says each year should be a reminder of what King stood for.
“All the hate in the country and all the division—that was not what Dr. Martin Luther King gave his life for. He gave his life and wanted to see injustice ending.”
Johnson shares more about his life, including his time following King, in his book “Man from Macedonia.”