By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — On Sunday morning, Feb. 24, New Sardis Baptist Church invoked the spirit of African-American ancestry coupled with Afro-centric music and the unadulterated Word of God. This was the culmination of African-American History Month and the presentation of the church’s annual Memphis Living Legends program.
The morning worship service was devoted to the men and women whom the church honored and celebrated for blazing a path in their respective fields and making significant contributions in Memphis and beyond.
“We honor men and women who have made our society better,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., New Sardis’ pastor emeritus and worship leader for the morning celebration.
Donning African attire, the church’s leadership team – headed by its pastor, the Rev. Darell Harrington – welcomed the 2019 Living Legends: State Rep. Karen Camper, Captain Albert T. Glenn, Dr. Howard Glenn, Bishop William Graves Sr., Estella Mayhue-Greer, Henry Hooper, Bobby O’Jay Jones, Clarence Jones, Jerry C. Johnson, John McFerren, Tajuan Stout-Mitchell, the Rev. Dr. Rosalyn R. Nichols, Rosetta Hicks Peterson, Dr. Larry Robinson, Mark Russell, Dr. Theresa James Shotwell, Madeleine C. Taylor and Fayth Hill Washington.
Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County’s historian and past chairman of the Shelby County Historical Commission, presented The Frances Wright Award. Wright was a 19th century Scottish-born abolitionist, social reformer, lecturer, freethinker and writer.
Honoring “living legends” was the brainchild of Dr. Erma L. Clanton, a playwright, lyricist, former teacher and member of New Sardis. The inaugural salute to living legends began in 2003 after Clanton, now 96, pitched the idea to Gray.
Celebrating black achievement in the U.S. first began in 1926 as Negro History Week – the precursor of Black History Month – founded by Carter G. Woodson, an historian, author, journalist and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Of course, James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” known as the “Black National Anthem,” was integral to the program – as it is each year – and key to setting the tone for the morning.
“Everybody here today – black, white, blue or green – that’s your native land,” said Gray, referring to the continent of Africa. “Native land should be replaced with Africa because we all came from the continent.”
Harrington posed the question: “How does our history impact the relevance of our present?” and composed his message, “The Transformative Power of Truth,” from John 8:31-36.
Recognizing the history of black contributions throughout his sermon, Harrington referred to the passage in John when Jesus said to the Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” Then he added: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“What does it mean in the 21st century to be free?” Harrington asked the congregation. He followed up with an answer to the question: “It should mean you ought to serve God.”
He said Black people have offered the world the best that the world has to offer and added, “It’s easy to forget one’s history. It’s easy to forget because we’ve become comfortable.”
Using as an example, he said, “It was illegal to write, but God made a way.”
Harrington continued to espouse the relevance and cultural significance of black pioneers and trailblazers, and undergirded the message with the importance of keeping God first.
“We celebrate black history,” he said. “But we have to celebrate a risen Savior.”
This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune