At an event honoring the work and memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there was someone on hand to testify to the great American civil rights leader’s powerful presence.

Waxahachie Mayor Ron Wilkinson brought an official greeting from the city of Waxahachie at the Waxahachie Civic Center, where hundreds gathered for Sunday night’s King to Obama: A Black and White Affair.

“As a young law student at SMU, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Martin Luther King and hearing him speak. I can’t tell you how impressed I was by the man, his spirit and his demeanor … He always took the high road; that is something we need to remember as Americans,” Wilkinson said.

He quoted President Ronald Reagan.

“The loss of freedom is only a generation away … Let us remember that the work and the light must be passed on,” Wilkinson said.

Speaker Dwight McKissic had attendees fully engaged as he numbered off divisive racial statements from  leaders in America’s not so distant past – right up to ugly comments by opponents during the campaign of President-elect Barack Obama.

McKissick’s PowerPoint presentation cited divisive and sometimes bigoted statements made by white right-wing leaders, ranging from writer Hal Lindsay to W.A. Criswell and even J. Edgar Hoover, who pronounced Martin Luther King Jr. “the most dangerous man in America.”

He pointed to one of those e-mail-type sayings, the kind that starts floating around – the kind you either pass on to others on your e-mail list or delete in disgust. McKissic said it was bandied around soon after Barack Obama was elected president in November.

“If our ancestors had known the country would come to this, they might have picked their own cotton,” he read from the body of the e-mail.

That may be true, McKissic said, but while early slaveholders bought and sold black people and pronounced them just three-fifths of a human and unworthy of rights, God was able to use even harsh American history.

“They didn’t realize those people were in those ships … They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,” McKissic said. “God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.”

He briefly addressed gossipy tidbits spread by some extreme right-wingers that Obama is the anti-Christ, and by others that the president-elect could be the Messiah. Nonsense on both counts, McKissick said, urging attendees not to worship Barack Obama, but rather the God who places authorities.

“We come to celebrate God,” he said.

“Joy cometh in the morning. We have overcome,” he said, quoting scripture and a favorite hymn of the civil rights movement.

A staunch supporter of conservative evangelical values who leads NOMW, Not On My Watch, a pastoral alliance against gay marriage, McKissic said it’s important to remember that while many conservative evangelicals consider gay marriage and abortion a sin, sins like racism, classism, sexism and elitism can sometimes slip under the radar.

“We need righteousness AND justice,” McKissic said.

While his message pointed out messages of hatred and racism, he acknowledged the reality that it took a majority of Americans of all shades to elect Barack Obama – and that much of America seems to have turned a corner, a feeling echoed by Everett Gilmore, an Ellis County pastor.

“This is not about a black president. I’d rather have a competent president. People are now looking through a clear glass, where it’s not about color,” Gilmore said.

The Eastside Church of Christ of Ennis choir sang “Mansion, Robe & Crown” and “Hush,” and the audience listened in reverent silence, clapping when the moment called for it.

McKissic concluded his message with an idea that brought the audience to their feet in a standing ovation: he declared that what the occasion called for was not necessarily the American anthem, which talented young Courtney Yates belted out, nor the negro national anthem of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which the audience did, but a tribute to common humanity: “Amazing Grace,” the historic Christian anthem penned by converted former slave ship captain John Newton.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see,” he said.

E-mail J. Louise at jlouise.larson@wninews.com