Newberry residents broke bread together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, after watching a premiere video of the town’s pastors delivering a unified message: Compassion isn’t divided by race.
Newberry High School students compiled clips from the town’s Community Dinner on the Grounds event in November – Newberry’s latest effort to reconcile its history of segregation. On Monday, around 60 town leaders and residents attended the video’s release at Newberry’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
The city’s mayor, Jordan Marlowe, also issued a proclamation at the gathering officially ending the segregation of Newberry Municipal Cemetery.
“I believe today is a historic day for Newberry,” Marlowe said at the gathering. “We are doing this so our children don’t have to deal with the shame of us failing to reconcile our past.”
Newberry has been engaged in a truth and reconciliation project since last spring to come to terms with its history, such as the lynchings of the Newberry Six in 1916. City officials have met with the Concerned Citizens of Newberry and held community discussions as part of the first few steps.
The Community Dinner on the Grounds event in November invited area pastors to minister on unity and compassion. Afterward parishioners and other community members sat down together for a large group dinner.
Marlowe, also Newberry High School’s student government adviser, recruited three students from the school to produce a video of the event. Morgan Markle, a senior and Newberry student body president, said her job was to bring Marlowe’s vision to life. She and the two other students used videos and photos sent in by the pastors.
“The message that was presented was very clear and straightforward,” she said. “It really connected with the audience who viewed the video.”
Marlowe ended the ceremony on Monday by signing the proclamation ending the cemetery’s segregation. The cemetery was given to the town on the condition that it remain segregated, and this is the first official document desegregating the fact.
One of the ceremony’s attendees, Marsha Lee, said the town needed the proclamation.
“I really like that the cemetery isn’t segregated anymore,” Lee said. “I thought that was just awesome.”
City Commissioner Matt Hersom said it has been interesting to see the community’s response.
“It has been an overwhelmingly positive message of acknowledging what has happened in the past but knowing that it doesn’t define us going forward,” he said.
High school principal James Sheppard said he believes the town has helped to build bridges between its communities.
“Doing those community events –and hopefully we can start doing these things together in churches – help make the change,” he said.