Goler Metropolitan commemorates the 1964 visit of Martin Luther King Jr.

Linda Dark shows the crowd where she sat 60 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Goler Metropolitan AME Zion Church.

Goler Metropolitan commemorates the 1964 visit of Martin Luther King Jr.
April 22
08:18 2024

Just as it did 60 years ago, last Saturday the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed throughout Goler Metropolitan AME Zion Church. On April 13, 1964, King made a stop in Winston-Salem and spoke at Goler. And during a special commemoration ceremony held last weekend, a clip of King’s speech was played for the first time. 

While speaking in front of a jam-packed crowd at Goler, King talked about the importance of voting and peaceful protest. Although it was hard to make out parts of the King’s speech from the 60-year-old recording, it was clear that King’s voice touched everyone in that room. Before the clip was played, Linda Dark, Renee Phillips, Dr. Velma Watts, and Frances Steward, who were all in attendance 60 years ago, talked about that historic day. 

Dr. Watts was in attendance that day with her husband and young daughter. As they waited for the event to start, Watts said the power went but was restored after a few minutes. Although there were threats of violence leading up to King’s visit, when the power went out Watts said no one left their seat, they just waited, determined not to let fear run them away. 

“We didn’t know if it was a glitch in the electrical system or the work of evildoers; it was a frightening situation, but amazingly there was no panic. We waited with silent chatter,” Watts continued. “Soon the power was restored and Dr. King called on us to understand, respect, and support each other with compassion. He was a remarkable soul who graced our lives with his presence.”

Dark, who was a high school student in 1964, said at the time she didn’t really understand the importance of voting, but at the same time she was captivated by every word King spoke. “The way that he weaved the words together and the rhythm, I was just transfixed,” said Dark, while standing next to a photo of Dr. King. 

“Just feeling the atmosphere that night was electric. It felt like if you snapped your fingers there would be a spark,” she continued. “I thank the Lord for sending the world Dr. King, but he’s gone now so that means we have to pick up where he left off. We need it now more than ever.”

Phillips, who was 11 years old when she heard King speak at Goler, said leading up to the event her parents were excited to take the entire family and although they arrived early, it was already standing room only. Phillips mentioned that when King started addressing the crowd, everyone listened. There weren’t any side conversations or people moving around; everyone was paying attention. 

“We sat in the annex over there to my left and I was amazed at the number of people here at Goler Metropolitan. I saw my teachers, neighbors, friends, and people from all parts of the city,” Phillips said. “Ever since that day, before and after his assassination, every time I see him on TV or read anything about him or his name is mentioned, I think back to that day in 1964.”

Steward, a longtime member of Goler Metropolitan, read a poem that she wrote about that day titled “If Dr. Martin Luther King Could Return.” During the commemoration ceremony, Mayor Allen Joines, N.C. Senator Paul Lowe, Al Jabbar, president of the local NAACP, and Linda Sutton, organizer with Democracy NC, also talked about the importance of keeping King’s legacy alive. 

To wrap up the event, a ceremonial wreath was placed near the historical marker outside the church marking King’s visit. 

Anyone who may have been in attendance during King’s visit to Winston-Salem is encouraged to share their story with the African American Heritage Initiative. The initiative is sponsoring a digital archive and is inviting city residents to contribute to it. For more information, please contact Annette Wilson by email at or by phone at 336-473-5830.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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