First black Richmond mayor recalls marching with Dr. King

First black Richmond mayor recalls marching with Dr. King
Henry Marsh

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Organizers are preparing for a day of remembrance at the nation's capital as Wednesday marks 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. A memorial service will take place at the King Monument in Washington, D.C.

Dr. King united many people in Central Virginia. Those who came in contact with the civil rights leader are sharing their stories of inspiration and encouragement.

"You didn't know if someone was going to shoot you on the street or what, but we got it done," said 91-year-old Bessie Moorer of Petersburg, who marched with Dr. King.

It took purpose and perseverance.

"I tried to get some water. 'Get away from the water fountain, n*****. I told you, I will pull this gun out.' This was Georgia," said Henry Marsh, first black mayor of Richmond and former Virginia senator.

Marsh was just a college student at the time.

"I went to a service station. I had never been outside of Virginia before, and I walked up to the service station to the restroom," said Marsh. "A man walked around me with a hand on his gun stating, 'N****, don't you know you're not supposed to use that restroom?' I said no. 'That's right, go out there in the woods.'"

It was a divided America Henry Marsh witnessed for himself - before meeting a man who would play a part in changing his life. Dr. King's non-violence philosophy inspired others to join him.

"He always had everything planned to a T," said Moorer. "He had a way of getting you to do things. He didn't yell at you, point at you - but you felt bad if you didn't do it. That type of thing."

It's why Moorer marched with King several times - even traveling to Selma, Alabama in 1965.

"I thought it was a joke, because I had never heard of Selma...People came in from different states, and I saw people sleeping in mud. Some people had their children strapped to them, getting ready for this march. That's how dedicated some people were," said Moorer. "Four of us drinking off one Coca-Cola, it was hot as I don't know what."

The sacrifice made a difference, prompting more speeches and marches...before the tragic news.

"Couldn't get home fast enough to see the TV, and it made us feel very sad too, because to me, he was personal," said Moorer.

First black Richmond mayor recalls marching with King

Although the speech King gave a day before seemed to foreshadow his death.

"A lot of us felt we were responsible, because we let King get so far out front that he was an obvious target," said Marsh. "People felt 'if we killed King, the Black problem would go away.'"

Instead, it inspired them to fight like they never did before for - thanks to the leadership of a man who gave them hope.

"I still don't understand how he was chosen by the Lord to do all those things," said Moorer.

Even if it meant dying before seeing the dream develop.

Mayor Levar Stoney will speak at Virginia Union - the very place Dr. King held his unity rally in 1963. Officials will also ring the bell at Capitol Square in King's honor.

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