Sarah M. Billups, of Stockbridge, said there was never any doubt in her mind that she would be among the thousands in Washington, D.C., Sunday, for the dedication of a statue in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I knew I would be going a month ago, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can’t imagine any African American not wanting to be a part of it ... who knows when we will see something like this again, it’s history-making,” said Billups.
Billlups, who is a retired clinical social worker, said she will be making the trip with her niece, Latanya McPherson, an attorney who practices in Morrow, and her niece’s 8-year-old son, William.
Billups lectures on black history, and is the chairperson of religious affairs for the Henry County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
She has done psychiatric social work for many years. Billups went into the field of education and retired from Central Islip School District in New York, where she worked with students in the evening, and alternative school programs.
She received her undergraduate degree from the School of Social Welfare at State University of New York, at Stony Brook, and master’s degree from the Adelphi University School of Social Work, in Garden City, New York.
“I was named Suffolk County Social worker of the year in 2005, and in 2006, I was the New York State Social Worker of the year,” she said. “I made history, as the first African American to receive those awards consecutively.”
A transplanted New Yorker, Billups grew up in Adamsville, Ala., when it was segregated. The Civil Rights Movement was exploding throughout the South, she said.
“I remember grabbing the Birmingham Post newspaper, and reading about all of the different things going on at that time ... In our neighborhood, there was one TV,” she said. “I saw them beat people, and use water hoses, and that seared into my memory. When you recall that, you have a full appreciation for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and its an appreciation that lots of our young people do not have –– and that’s very sad.”
Billups said if it were not for the Civil Rights struggle, African Americans would not be able to live in the neighborhoods they choose. “We would not have had access to the jobs that we have today, regardless of our level of education,” she said.
“And just simply, the whole issue of self-esteem, and not being treated as second- and third-class citizens in the country where we were born. What Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement did, didn’t just help people in our race, it helped all races.
“African Americans owe him a debt that we can’t repay, and so does white America ... There are no superior beings, we are all children of God,” added Billups.
“It is really good to see that Dr. King is being recognized in this manner, during the administration of President Barack Obama, who also is an historic figure. You have to be proud of them both.”