MLK’s legacy lives on at Nashua’s First Baptist Church

Staff photos by Adam Urquhart More than 200 people filled the First Baptist Church for Saturday night's 36th annual MLK tribute.

NASHUA – Rev. Margaret Lewis knows the mission is not yet accomplished. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have lit the fire, but there’s still work to be done to make the civil rights’ leader’s dream come true.

Hundreds gathered at Nashua’s First Baptist Church Saturday night to discuss MLK’s dream and celebrate the life and legacy of the man behind that dream.

The 36th annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., titled “Love Shall Win,” filled the church pews by 6 p.m. There was a time when a full house wasn’t the norm.

FBC was the only church hosting a celebration in honor of MLK 36 years ago. That was before Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a New Hampshire holiday.

“It has been a part of our core identity,” FBC’s Pastor said. “We have been a congregation that has been in the forefront of issues such as racial equality and civil rights for all, including the LGBT community.”

It wasn’t until 1999 when then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen signed legislation making New Hampshire the last state to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The legislation was signed into law in June of that year and the state’s first celebration honoring MLK Day took place in January of 2000.

According to Shaheen’s website she, “Signed law establishing a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, ending New Hampshire’s status as the only state in the nation not to recognize Dr. King’s birthday as an official holiday.”

Prior to the legislation, the Granite State observed an optional Civil Rights Day.

FBC’s mission it to keep the flame MLK ignited in the 50s and 60s burning bright. Hosting this annual program, focused on King’s struggles during the height of the civil rights movement, is a way the church faces today’s challenges head on.

As King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Lewis, who welcomed the crowd, was followed by song, opening prayer and music, before MD Alan Green from Temple Beth Abraham and Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess took the podium.

Donchess touched on some unfortunate events taking place outside of Nashua, but brought the conversation back to the life and teachings of Dr. King and the celebration those in attendance were a part of in Nashua. The city proclamation acknowledges the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. at First Baptist Church and encourages people in the city to take part in the annual service.

However, many don’t need encouragement, and attend the program every year. Unofficially there were 252 people in attendance Saturday night – a number tallied up by one of the service’s ushers.

Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Neal Pearson from St. John’s Baptist Church in Woburn, Massachusetts, was happy to be part of the service. It was his second time participating, but Pearson’s last visit was 10 years ago.

“He showed us how to be Christian and serve God,” Pearson said of MLK. “He’s a great example of changing the world for the better.”

Pearson said the event has grown in the last 10 years.

“Now it’s huge,” Pearson said. “It’s great seeing the community come together.”

Lewis said 36 years ago no one wanted to take on celebrating MLK and all he stood for.

“Me personally,” Lewis said, “I’m proud to serve a congregation that values not just the words of MLK but his actions.

“It’s not something that’s in the past, we’re just acknowledging now. We have a lot of work to do and I’m proud to be a part of a congregation that recognizes that dream of MLK has not yet been fulfilled. There’s so much work yet to be done.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.