Newman UMC Fills the Pews Hosting Grants Pass MLK Celebration


Newman United Methodist Church in Grants Pass, Oregon, was honored to host the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Newman, in partnership with Rogue Community College, Bethany Presbyterian Church, and St. Luke's Episcopal Church has been partnering to bring conversations about racial justice, systemic oppression, and inclusion to the forefront in Grants Pass.

This was the first in-person MLK celebration since January of 2020. This year's event featured Dr. Geneva Craig and Mary Liuzzo Lillebele who both grew up in Selma, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Craig captured the crowds attention as she recalled her days as a young person marching with Dr. King. She was present at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7th 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday. She recalled the anger she felt and the hate she harbored in her heart. It was a conversation with Dr. King that left a lifelong impact on her. Dr. King told her to, "be patient, it takes courage to be non-violent." It is with that courage that Dr. Craig fights for racial justice. She recalled the days when she would often get arrested. "Nobody knows how to get arrested like Geneva!" She said about herself. "I would layer up so I had a cushion while laying in the jail cell."

She continued, “Someone over here would start to cry. And then someone over there would break into a song … ‘Keep your eye on the prize, hold on, hold on. Keep your eye on the prize, hold on.’ The singing would start in one corner then someone else would pick it up. We got so we wrote all kinds of lyrics to that song.” The singing, she said, was one small way of fighting back against men who attacked them with cattle prods and billy clubs.

Lillebele, whose mother was killed by the KKK for transporting marchers from Montgomery to Selma also shared with the audience. “My question isn’t why was my mother there,” Lilleboe said, “But why wasn’t everybody there?”

About two weeks after joining the protests and participating in a successful Selma to Montgomery march, Viola Liuzzo was shot to death by a car full of Klansmen. She was 39 and the only white woman killed in the civil rights movement. Asked what legacy she received from her mother, Lillebele said, “I couldn’t hate the men who killed her because then I would be betraying her. You hate the forces of evil, you hate the hate, not the haters. [The haters] are sick and you can help them get better.”

Racial justice is top of mind for many in Grants Pass. As recently as the 1970's the city had a "Sundown Law" on the books banning black people from remaining in the city after sundown. Members of the Grants Pass community are working with the Oregon Remembrance Project to reconcile this history.

"Events like the MLK celebration help us to reconcile our past and become inspired to fight for a better, more just future," said Rev. Ryan Scott, the pastor at Newman UMC. "Given our town's history it is critically important that we remember Dr. King and what he stood for -- that we continue to work towards a more equitable and loving world where all God's children are given the full opportunity to thrive." 

The event in Grants Pass drew more than 200 people in-person and dozens more online. The Zoom webinar recording of the event can be watched here