Hometown history was shared in Garland Monday night, reminding those gathered of the past, where the town and people have come from, as well as where they are headed during its second annual event to honor Dr. Martin Luther King.
Garland organizers used the day, and King’s dream, as an opportunity to tout some of their own, men and women, they said, who helped to shape the town and who believed in community and fairness for all people, no matter their color or creed.
That the event was held in what was once the old Garland Colored High School made the event even more poignant, especially since among those honored was the school’s founder and principal.
Those gathered joined with organizers to pay tribute to the contributions of Thomas J.L. Boykin, Joseph V. Boykin, Coleman and Mary S. Carter and Milton and Margaret Carter, all deceased, and to hear 94-year-old Fannie Johnson talk about her life and the way things had changed since she first walked to school, attesting to the positive changes she had seen.
Among the gathered guests were family members of all those being honored, some spoke, others sat listening, pride apparent on their faces as they heard countless accolades lavished upon their loved ones.
As the event began, town mayor Winifred Murphy offered greetings, followed by Mary Boykin Brown who prayed blessing on the afternoon’s festivities. Speakers for the program, which was held at the Garland First Baptist Church fellowship hall, focused on the future as a manifestation of past choices and aspirations.
Carolyn Bronson asked the gathered group to examine those aspirations.
“We need to imagine what we want our tomorrow to look like,” she stated to mark the occasion. Bronson encouraged the group to take the day as more than just a holiday, and use the day for reflection, study, and other fruitful pursuits.
“Live today as if there is no tomorrow,” she added.
Murphy then called Fannie Johnson to the podium for a special recognition, touting her for all her contributions to the community and honoring her with a spirit award. Johnson reminisced about what she called the walking times, recalling the one-room school house, a single teacher teaching at the school, going three to four miles to school, and walking in rain and snow. Education was more important than dwelling on the weather, and she remembers graduating from seventh grade, from elementary school, and having no choice but to move with an aunt to Clinton to further her studies.
“I wanted a chance to go to high school,” said Johnson. For her, the only chance she had to go past even that was to move yet again, and the next time, she moved to live with an uncle to go on to college.
“I was doing good in college,” said Johnson. “And I thought that married life looked good, too.” With marriage came a family, and Johnson was pleased that her kids were able to take the bus to school every day, something she called a luxury compared to what she grew up having to go through.
“One day I got a letter for my son saying he would be going to the white school,” she said, recalling the white bus driver picking him up, and that bus driver looked real nervous. Johnson said she had her concerns, but acknowledged that when she saw her son was happy, her feelings changed.
“I became happy,” attested Johnson, saying that the despite the adversity she knew he had to face, she came to see the changes as part of King’s dream.
“Children join hands,” said Johnson. A black and white school together, and kids getting along just fine, is a dream realized for her. She said she has been in the area ever since way back, and that she really appreciated those that got together and recognized her.
Historical reflections led off with highlights about the Garland Colored High School, which as roots that are steeped in the strength and focus of locals who were determined to do their duty to educate their families. Because there was no local colored high school for years, students had to move or rent rooms to get a chance to better themselves.
Memories of those times were shared, memories from excerpts of letters written by family members. Summer school, picking berries for eight cents a day, friend chicken, cake and sweet tea were all part of the history of the community that was shared by those who stepped to the podium to remember loved ones who helped, they said to make life better for the people of the Garland community
Dr. Myrtle Boykin Sampson and Dr. Bertha Boykin Todd recalled their father, Thomas J.L. Boykin with fondness and admiration. They talked of his desire to see a school built in Garland for “colored folk,” and his determination to see a dream become a reality.
Funds were raised, and seeds planted, and the school grew into a tree that has clearly bore fruit and multiplied through the sacrifices that were made by the families and the community as a whole in order to make the dream of education accessible to all in rural Sampson County. Dr. Todd said that at times her father felt as if no one was listening to him in regards to getting that school up and going.
Her family lived in the country, and she remembered finding a “meticulous list of donors,” which she said he had listed with the amounts for donations, from a penny to the largest, a dollar. Hopes were to secure Rosenwald funds, funds that were earmarked specifically for the building of schools for African-Americans, but that money had already been dispersed, said Dr. Todd.
“That did not stop him,” she attested about her father’s determination. “Someone heard that plea.” The late Thomas J.L. Boykin made sure that it happened.
This dire need lead into the formation of the Garland Colored High School, which served the community for years, giving the students a chance to rise up, and is still benefiting the community today through scholarship at Sampson Community College.
Dr. Joseph Boykin, Jr. also spoke about the late Joseph V. Boykin, and talked about Boykin’s determination to persuade the school board to invest in the education of blacks. Dr. Boykin has seen the fruits of that push for equal education, and he is a doctor and a surgeon, and that education he describes as crucial building blocks.
“We were starving for education,” said Boykin of the years when students were attending the Garland Colored High School. “We had to fight to be educated.”
Amelia Merritt represented the Carter family, along with her sisters, and as the eldest, she encouraged the group to dream.
“Have a dream, keep it alive, and make it work,” said Merritt. The family’s dream is for Garlarnd, the county, and the state to be a place for all races to better their lives she said, stressing that was how the Carters had always lived their lives, never seeing color and always reaching out to help people no matter who they were.
“That’s the way they lived their lives,” Merritt said. “They embodied what Dr. King always talked about.”
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org