Politics & Government

At MLK service, SC pastor targets politicians for failing to support black community

March highlights King Day at the Dome events in Columbia

The King Day at the Dome’s events begin with a prayer service at Zion Baptist Church, followed by a march on the State House through downtown Columbia.
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The King Day at the Dome’s events begin with a prayer service at Zion Baptist Church, followed by a march on the State House through downtown Columbia.

Politicians take the black vote for granted during elections but don’t follow through by helping African-Americans once in office, the Rev. Shawn Johnson told hundreds packed into Zion Baptist Church on Monday.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat,” said Johnson, superintendent of the Barnwell 19 school district “I don’t care if you’re a Republican. But if you can’t do what the people need, we ought to make you unemployed. If those folks cannot champion our causes, we ought to vote them out.”

Sitting in front of that pastor were U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. — both potential 2020 presidential contenders.

For the 19th year, South Carolinians gathered inside the sanctuary of Columbia’s Zion Baptist, where they took shelter from the bitter-for-South Carolina January cold, prayed and honored the late Rev. Martin Luther King’s legacy before marching to the State House.

“Daily our spirits are assaulted by words of hatred ... division openly promoted in the name of political gain,” said the Rev. Patsy Craig Malanuk, of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. “Break down those walls that separate us.”

Zion Baptist holds a historic connection to King.

The Rev. Andrew Davis of Zion Baptist noted King was scheduled to visit the Columbia church in 1968. Instead, he chose to stay in Memphis to support city workers’ sanitation strike and was assassinated.

The King Day at the Dome march has become an annual fixture in Columbia since the first rally in 2000, when thousands stood on the State House steps to protest the Confederate flag atop the dome. Since then, the rally has become fertile campaign ground for prospective Democratic candidates hoping to excite the state’s large African-American voting bloc.

Zion Baptist also has given presidential candidates a platform to talk to potential voters ahead of South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary. In 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sanders spoke at the church.

“It’s very important that they show up,” Benedict College senior Lauren Rivers, 23, said of Booker and Sanders.

As they marched toward the State House with several hundred others, Rivers and Benedict junior Courtney Ingram, 20, said they don’t know who they will vote for in the state’s February 2020 Democratic primary for president.

It is more important that they vote than who they vote for, they said.

“At our school last year, Mr. Jim Clyburn gave us some statistics, saying if all of us vote, including the community around us, we can make a change, starting with governor, lieutenant governor,” said Rivers, referring to the Columbia Democrat who is majority whip of the U.S. House.

Avery G. Wilks contributed to this report.
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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.