by Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
For the Church of God in Christ, acknowledging its history is serious business. That’s why church leaders in 2011 turned to Mary P. Patterson, widow of the late Presiding Bishop J.O. Patterson Sr. – the Pentecostal denominations first elected presiding bishop (1968-89).
Patterson is the executive director of the Pentecostal Heritage Connection, the vehicle crafted for her to carry out a directive – to teach and preserve church history. Since taking on the task, she has led thousands into Mississippi on a historical trek back to the beginnings of today’s international organization.
This year, with Church of God in Christ (COGIC) faithful among those worldwide focused on the 50th observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, COGIC’s commitment to celebrating its history took on a Dr. King flair via “The Final Footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tour.”
The five-stop bus ride took participants to select Memphis sites on April 3, the 50th commemoration of Dr. King’s now-prophetic last address – the “Mountaintop Speech” at historic Mason Temple, COGIC’s world headquarters. Now the tour will live on.
“We were so pleased with the overwhelming response to this commemorative tour that we’re going to make it a regular part of our tour offerings,” said Patterson.
“The story of Dr. King in Memphis will never get old, and his time in our city will always be linked to Mason Temple and Church of God in Christ. Dr. King brought all denominations and races together back in 1968. That, in itself, is well worth remembering.”
The tour stops are:
* Clayborn Temple, where civil rights activists and sanitation workers met to plan a strategy during the sanitation workers strike of 1968.
* Mason Temple.
* The National Civil Rights Museum, which encompasses the old Lorraine Motel, where King was fatally shot while standing on a balcony.
* Old St. Joseph’s Hospital – where King was pronounced dead – on the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
* R. S. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home, where Dr. King’s wake was held on April 5, 1968 before his remains were flown to Atlanta for two more funeral services, which Lewis & Sons co-directed.
The highlight of the inaugural tour was a keynote address by Dr. Eric Williams, curator of religion at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture in Washington, DC.