The Rev. Nathaniel Irvin was a young pastor in Augusta when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the city in 1963 – the year of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
King returned in March 1968 and Irvin was happy to wait four hours to see him.
Just a few days later, “I heard the news that Dr. King was dead,” Irvin said in an interview several years ago. “It would be overwhelming to be there in Atlanta. People were crying and we all felt a great sense of loss.”
Now 83, Irvin still preaches at the Old Storm Branch Baptist Church, outside of North Augusta and not far from his birthplace. He also taught and served as an administrator in the Aiken County school system for many years.
Alpha Phi Alpha chapters hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Unity Breakfast on Saturday, honoring Irvin as the Drum Major Award recipient. King’s last sermon called on the drum major instinct to promote service and love.
In the earlier interview, Irvin described seeing a need to include the welfare of all people.
“We cannot afford to be a black or white society,” he said “God is neither black or white … America must be careful not to become a worshipper of material things. The wealth must be shared. If not, the richer will become richer and the poor will be poorer.”
Irvin spent 14 years as a teacher and assistant principal at Jefferson High School, one of the county’s all-black high schools. For nine years he served as a guidance counselor at LBC High School and helped integrate it. He himself had completed high school at a time when there were no free high schools in the area.
“I didn’t want to show partiality to black or white students,” he said during the interview of his work at LBC. “I knew what it was like to be left out. I was also very sensitive to those children with special needs.”