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A hero honored: Iconic Old Fort man honored with MLK Spirit Award
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A hero honored: Iconic Old Fort man honored with MLK Spirit Award

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During the eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, an Old Fort man was honored with the MLK Jr. Spirit Award for standing up for black children in 1950 when segregation divided society.

The MLK Jr. Spirit Award is given to a person or persons who exemplifies ways to build up the community and the world. This year’s award was given in honor of the late Albert Joyner Sr.

In 1950, Joyner led a group of school-aged children to the whites-only Old Fort School to register them for classes. The black school in Old Fort had recently been shut down and demolished, and black students were bussed to Marion to attend an all-black school there. Joyner’s request was denied, and after that, he was a target of violence and hostility for taking that stand.

Just last year, a mural was painted on the side of a building in downtown Old Fort from a photo that was taken that day in 1950 when Joyner tried to enroll the students.

“His story should always be told,” said Lavita Logan of People on the Move for Old Fort. “Mr. Joyner felt like that was the right thing to do. I’m sure he didn’t think that his action and bravery would leave an impact on what is going on in our country today. The lesson we need to learn from Mr. Joyner, and Dr. King is that there is nothing wrong for standing up for what is right.”

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The MLK Jr. Spirit Award was presented by Barbara Stevenson to Joyner’s granddaughter Jennifer Greenlee.

“I would like to say thank you to Mt. Zion AME Zion Church for recognizing Mr. Albert Joyner for the MLK Spirit Award,” Greenlee said. “I am honored to accept this on behalf of the family. My grandfather would be very humbled to accept this award. He always said he just did what the Lord told him to do. The Joyner family says thank you.”

The award will be given to the family during a program in April, Stevenson said during the breakfast meeting.

“This award makes things so right,” said Stevenson. “This is an award that I am really honored to give. I didn’t know Mr. Joyner that well, but I knew his children and have taught his grandchildren so I feel honored to present this.”

President of the NAACP Ray McKesson said Joyner’s legacy will live on in the actions that folks take today.

“The mural in downtown Old Fort serves as a continued reminder of Mr. Joyner’s contribution to the civil rights struggle, and it’s up to us to continue that legacy,” he said.

This year’s prayer breakfast was not the usual gathering at the Community Building. It was presented through a Zoom meeting and streamed live on the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church Facebook page where it is still available to watch. Donations are accepted for the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church and the Old Fort Mural Project by mail to P.O. Box 1913, Marion, N.C. 28752.

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