FAITH AND FAMILY — Savoy family keeps Coretta Scott King’s wish going with worship service, brunch

Published 12:15 am Friday, January 17, 2020

In Hargie Faye Savoy’s home in Port Arthur sat the widow of a man who changed the world through civil rights.

Mrs. Savoy hosted Coretta Scott King for a brunch the day after Mrs. King gave a speech at the Bob Bowers Civic Center in August 1986. In Mrs. Savoy’s bedroom, a very important question was asked:

“[Mrs. King] asked, ‘Would I start a support group in our area?’ Again, I told myself, ‘Umm-mm, what did I get myself into? A support group? What am I supposed to do?’ But there was no way I was telling her, ‘No.’ I told her, ‘Yes, I would do my best to start a support group.’ Then, she went further on to tell me what she would send information on.”

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That support group, of which Mrs. Savoy is still the president, went on to organize the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Brunch and Celebration. The 34th annual program begins at 10 a.m. Monday at the Bob Bowers Civic Center, but is already sold out.

A Martin Luther King Day Worship Service is also scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, 501 W. Thomas Blvd., in Port Arthur. Admission is free.

The in-home brunch Mrs. King and Mrs. Savoy enjoyed together kindled a 20-year friendship. Mrs. King, who died in 2006 at age 78, never attended the annual brunch in Port Arthur but Terry Savoy-Hadley, one of Mrs. Savoy’s daughters, said a special event was hosted in her honor in the city.

How it all began

Mrs. Savoy recalled the time she was asked to host Mrs. King.

“Rev. Beauregard Brown was the one bringing Mrs. King in to be a guest speaker for Mr. George Lacey, who was an educator that was about to retire,” she said. “During that time, they said they wanted someone to be with Mrs. King because she was going to be here overnight and Rev. Brown asked Pastor [Randy] Vaughn, would he have a suggestion for that? The next thing I know, they called and they were coming because Rev. Brown wanted to talk with me. If my pastor and all his congregation thought I would be the person, I figured that would be a privilege, also. After all our talking, we agreed.”

Then came the evening a limousine carrying Mrs. King pulled up at the Holiday Inn on what is now Jimmy Johnson Boulevard.

“When the limousine pulled up, about four or five people were standing back behind me because I was doing it,” Mrs. Savoy said. “She got out of the car, she opened the door and grabbed my hand, gave me a kiss on the cheek and I knew — instantly — I didn’t have nothing to worry about. I was meeting a real woman. She was just lovely and beautiful.”

Mrs. Savoy said the speech Mrs. King gave was lovely and “kind of” long.

“The more we were together, the more [I realized] it was just beautiful, a woman with a husband and children and got leadership abilities and all that she’s done,” Mrs. Savoy said. “When we parted, we said, ‘See you for the brunch!’”

Two months later, Mrs. Savoy found herself at a gathering in Atlanta with leaders and presidents of organizations that were involved with the Civil Rights movement. She went with her daughters Jackie and Madeline and daughter-in-law Diane.

“From the beginning, I was intrigued that Mrs. King was in our area,” Mrs. Savoy said. “When they found out there was going to be a support group, I didn’t have to worry about anything because they called and asked, ‘Have you started your support group? Do you have your board together?’ That uplifted me whole lot. It just took off like that because I had never met Dr. King, but I know God has a place for you at a certain time and place. It wasn’t for me to work with Dr. King but it was for me to work with his wife, and I got to work with her for 20 years before her death.”

Today’s importance

Terry’s sister Jackie raises funds for the worship and brunch. She says her work helps to make sure Mrs. King’s dream is continued to keep the federal holiday, which was first observed in 1986, alive.

“Without the community’s participation in funding, we wouldn’t have this event,” Jackie said.

The worship and brunch promote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s six principles of nonviolence:

  • Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people;
  • Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding;
  • Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people;
  • Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform;
  • Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate, and;
  • Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

The service will include performances from a praise and worship team led by Jordan Washington of Port Arthur and the MLK Dancers, and a message from Strong Tower Ministries Pastor Herb Fontnette. Also, three local clergymen will receive the Let Freedom Ring award for exemplifying Dr. King’s six principles of nonviolence: New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Donald Ray Frank, Barnes Memorial United Methodist Church Pastor Donald Bonnie and Rock Island Baptist Church Elder Kevin Domingo.

“For us, for 34 years in this area, people embraced nonviolence,” said Savoy-Hadley, the support group’s vice president and event planner. “We’re trying to approach it more because we’ve been getting bombarded with violence. Now, Dr. King’s words are more important.”

Awards will also be presented at Monday’s brunch. Taylor Getwood, Giavanna Matthews and My’reaka Maxwell will receive scholarships, and the Port Arthur Independent School District will receive a Spirit Award.

MLK Honorees include Port of Beaumont Commissioner Georgine Guillory, Ricky Jason, Marcelo Molfino, Amada Perez, Port of Port Arthur Commissioner Linda Spears, Fred Vernon and Damon West. Entertainment honorees include Dominique Brannon and Shaylan Simon.

“For the community to embrace Dr. King’s celebration for 34 years, that’s growth to me,” Savoy-Hadley said.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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