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Community leaders at MLK breakfast warn there is much yet to be done

Fifty years ago, a group of black college students sat down at a Rock Hill lunch counter to fight for equal rights. They were arrested for their nonviolent protest and ordered to spend 30 days in prison.

Seven years later, for his own fight against inequality, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. paid the ultimate price. He lost his life, the target of an assassin's bullet in Memphis, Tenn.

This year, Rock Hill's Martin Luther King Day celebration came just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the Friendship 9 "Jail, No Bail" lunch counter sit-in in Rock Hill.

But despite the nation's progress since the 1960s civil rights demonstrations, there's still much to be done, community leaders say.

That was the message at Monday's annual Martin Luther King Jr. interfaith prayer breakfast at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill.

"It's important not to rest on the laurels of what's been done," said Steve Crump, a documentary film producer and Charlotte television news reporter who was invited to speak at the event.

Hundreds gathered to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, and to eat, sing and pray together - rights fought for by King, the Friendship Nine, and many more.

Those on hand included Rock Hill's Richard Hemphill and the Rev. Ronal King, recipients of this year's Dream Keeper awards.

A native of Rock Hill and graduate of Emmett Scott High School, Hemphill coached blacks in baseball, softball and basketball in the 1960s and helped to integrate sports.

"He impressed upon young people not only the importance of education, but the importance of respecting and treating people fairly," said Dr. Sylvia M. Berry, who presented the award.

The Rev. Ronal King earned the award for his outreach ministry, Hands and Feet 4 Christ, which has been serving the "poor, outcast and unfortunate" for four decades.

Not lingering on his accomplishments, King spoke instead of an "urgent" problem facing Rock Hill now: hunger.

"Be fully committed," he warned, "because this is the worst year I've seen in my 38 years of feeding the hungry."

King went on to say he's asked for help from state and congressional leaders - including newly elected U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who attended the breakfast.

"They said, 'You're not going to get it,'" he told the audience.

Later, King and Mulvaney, who replaced longtime incumbent Democrat John Spratt in South Carolina's 5th Congressional District seat, discussed the matter again.

"It's going to be a lean couple of years," Mulvaney said. "That's the same message he's hearing from the state."

After a few minutes of discussion, the congressman and preacher shook hands before King led them in a prayer.

"It's the steady and consistent efforts of people like Richard Hemphill and Rev. King - it's that ongoing persistence - that really helps us continue to make progress," said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols after the breakfast.