MLK Day Marches in Florence spark controversy among organizers

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Almost 18 years ago Florence City Councilman Ed Robinson began organizing a Martin Luther King Junior Freedom March that flourished over time.

The Florence Community Development Agency met with News 13 Wednesday afternoon at the Florence County Complex. The group says they are becoming divided over the very event meant to offer unity.

Each year hundreds of people line the streets in Florence to march for equality, justice and to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but this year organizers of the march say there is a much different spirit in the air.

Florence City Councilman Ed Robinson organized the march for nearly two decades, but since his passing earlier this year, newly elected Councilwoman Pat Gibson-HyeMoore is attempting to create her own event.

“There is not a need for two marches whatsoever but everybody as a citizen has a right to do what they want in this city that’s the purpose of marching for freedom,” mentioned march organizer Billy D. Williams.

Billy Williams worked alongside with Councilman Ed Robinson as one of the founders of the march.

“We plan our march and we do our march. I don’t know where all of this comes from with the city of Florence getting involved in our march but this is not a city march,” added Williams.

This year a group led by Councilwoman Gibson-Hyemoore wants to host its own event.

News 13 spoke with the councilwoman several times Thursday, and while she declined to go on camera, she says a committee met Wednesday night to discuss her march.

The committee led by the city councilwoman proposed a route that pulls people from four different directions. Routes will start in East Florence, West Florence, North Florence and South Florence. The four routes will end at the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center.

News 13 obtained copies of the four routes from the City of Florence Police Department.

Ed Robinson’s widow, Erica, says the idea of asking city residents to choose between the two marches promotes the very division Ed’s event is against.

“We are not creating the division. We are not starting a whole new MLK march. We want to continue the MLK march that was created by Ed Robinson and his legacy and the other founders,” said Robinson.

Robinson says the vision her husband had 17 years ago remains relevant today.

“We are marching for freedom and justice. There has never been a charge for marching and if anybody that come out to charge for a march I’m ashamed of them because that’s not Dr. King’s way,” explained Williams.

The two groups plan to bring all of their concerns to the Florence City Council meeting on Monday.

Count on News 13 to keep you up to date.