Still we rise: Knights of Peter Claver celebrate MLK’s birthday with 27th Annual march, program

PETER SILAS PASQUA ppasqua@postsouth.com

MARINGOUIN - The Knights of Peter Claver Unit #119 Mary Immaculate Council St. Aubry Court hosted a march and program in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Saturday.

The march began at Landry St. at Bayou Maringouin and concluded at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church Hall where Joseph “Bo” Stewart served as guest speaker.

“Thank you to all who experienced that exhilarating walk with us,” Mistress of Ceremony Lady Theresa Thomas said. “I am sure it was just as refreshing as it was for Martin Luther King.”

About 30 began the march but by the time the group reached the church hall, approximately 90 had joined in.

King was a baptist minister and civil-rights activist that played a pivotal role in ending legal segregation of African-American citizens as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was assassinated in April 1968 after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

“It warms my heart to see the people here today,” Grand Knight Sam Watson said. “Many I haven’t seen in years to honor a legacy.”

Stewart, a native of Maringouin, served as executive officer for the Kellogg Company for over 20 years retiring as senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief ethics officer.

“I am so glad to be back here,” Stewart said. “My feet, my soul and my mind have never left these grounds. It doesn’t matter where you came from in life. All that matters is where you want to go.”

Stewart recalled attending school at colored T.A. Levy during his youth which required a mile walk pass all-white Shady Grove and a trip across the moccasin infested bayou in a pirogue. Over five years, he estimated he crossed the bayou 1,800 time before realizing his mother crossed 3,600 times counting the trip back after he was dropped off and trip to pick him up.

“Not one of us could swim a lick and nobody had a life jacket but not one of us got lost,” Stewart said. “That is a miracle.”

Stewart said racial inequality is still evident today and used several examples. The average net wealth of a white family is $113,000 compared to $5,600 for a black family. Black children are two and a half more likely to die within the first year of their life, according to Stewart, and the prison population is 60 percent African American while that segment totals only 25 percent of the total population.

“That is obscene,” Stewart said. “It is not fair in a country that prides itself in fairness. The mountaintop is still far away for most of us.

“King would applaud many of the changes today but still be frustrated because of lack of racial equality. We remember the emotional things but that is what it was about. He said a lot of profound and enlightening things. That is his legacy to people who choose to listen to his mission but we are all apart of inescapable mutuality. What affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.”

Stewart stressed his point to continue to march on.

“We cannot stop marching,” he said. “It is as important this year as it is next year. We have to challenge this system to deliver its promise that all men are created equal.

“If we want to have better lives for our children, we have to fight for it. Education provides the great opportunity to improve one generation to the next. I am proof that you are in charge of your own fate and captain of your soul.”