PALMETTO — Because many traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the inauguration of the first black president, Barack Obama, almost half of the seats were empty at Fellowship Service, an interracial, interdenominational religious service held Sunday evening at the Palmetto Youth Center.
But that didn’t keep the more than 100 who did attend from celebrating what motivated Obama to become president of the United States — the life and dreams of Martin Luther King Jr.
“All things are possible,” the Rev. Ted Tillis told the crowd. “God knew this day would come.”
The interracial service was the last event of a weekend celebration of King’s life that included a banquet, a parade and a talent show. The service originally started nearly 20 years ago at Tillis’ church, the House of God in Palmetto, as a celebration of King’s life and work. The first service had about 200 people and one guitar player, Tillis recalled.
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Judge George Adams suggested having an interracial service about 10 years ago, said Tillis.
“The idea was to have brotherhood among us,” he said. “What better way than to have an interracial service.”
Then the late Seymour Sailes, a community activist, suggested the service be moved to the Palmetto Youth Center. Almost 1,000 people attended the first one and it grew every year after, said Tillis, who also was the program committee chair.
Tillis thanked the people in the audience for attending all the events honoring the life and work of King.
Tillis told the audience he remembered when having such a service wouldn’t have been possible. Not that long ago it would have been difficult to shake the hand of a white man or embrace him, he said.
“I remember when blacks didn’t go across a certain section of town,” said Tillis. “I remember when we couldn’t go into restaurants. I remember the time when we were told by our parents, you must stay at the house because the KKK is in town.”
King paved the way for people to come together as they did at the worship service Sunday evening, said Pastor Paul Scheele of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Bradenton.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a huge person in breaking down the barriers,” he said. “He was a huge positive influence on American freedom and equality.”
Sunday’s service was to “celebrate the grand and glorious contributions to civil rights and humanity” made possible by King, said the Rev. Earl G.I. Bradley of Providence Mission Baptist Church in Palmetto.
“Dr. King was a great man, a great American,” said the man who spoke at the first organized service celebrating King’s legacy and now at the interracial service just a day before Obama’s inauguration.
“But above all, he was a great prophet of God.”
Bradley noted the service had a good spirit and more unity among everyone at the service.
“All of it fits,” he said. “It’s like part of his dream has come true.”
Pastor Fidel Diaz of the Iglesia Bautista of Bradenton said the service was wonderful and brought many people together.
“We need to do this more often,” he said. “We need to be together. We will be in heaven together; we should be practicing it here.”