An East Liberty church culminated its Black History Month celebration by focusing on family over the weekend.
“Celebration of the Family,” this year’s theme at Pentecostal Temple COGIC, featured prayer, poetry, musical selection, scripture, liturgical dance and a skit comprised of youth paying homage to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The highlight of the night came when the church honored two of its couples for achieving more than 50 years (the Year of Jubilee) of marriage.
The Hawkinses have been married for 63 years, while the Ogdens have been married for 59.
“The family is under such challenge these days,” said Bishop Loran Mann, head pastor. “In an age where same-sex marriages are legal and accepted by the law, we as a church are just putting out the word that God has not changed.”
He said that the church is carrying the message that God still wants a man and a woman to be married and have children, and that’s the example that the program promotes.
“It’s so important to get the family structure together, because that’s the first institution that God ever created,” said Bishop Loran Mann who has been married to his wife Barbara for 42 years.
John and Verdie Hawkins Sr., of New Kensington, were the first couple recognized for the award as a result of their 63-year marriage.
The church provided the couples with a heart-shaped plaque, flowers, a gift basket and an embroidered pillow.
The congregation described the couple as “snowbirds” because they have a winter home outside of Ocala, Fla., that they utilize to seek refuge from Pittsburgh’s cold weather.
Their daughter, Florinda Littlejohn, accepted the award on their behalf.
“I got to grow up with my parents,” she joked. “They were 20 when I was born.”
Littlejohn reminisced on going roller-skating with her family “every Friday” while she was growing up.
The family moved from Ohio to Pittsburgh when she was young.
The Hawkinses met on a playground in Ohio.
John Hawkins’ parents were sharecroppers that had moved from Missouri, and Verdie Hawkins moved from Mississippi because of a ruckus her family endured with the Ku Klux Klan.
“It was a rough place,” Littlejohn said.
Littlejohn’s father had worked for Westinghouse back in Ohio and assumed he would be able to find work at the location in Pittsburgh. As it turned out, “they wouldn’t even let him sweep the floor,” she said.
He ended up taking a job at Gimbels and his wife cleaned homes.
The Hawkinses had six children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
The Hawkinses also received a signed congratulatory certificate from their respective Pennsylvania Senators that highlighted the couple’s 63 years of marriage.
Deacon Gerald Ogden and his wife, Sylvia, were married on Christmas Eve of 1956.
They had to move the wedding up prior to the original plan because Gerald Ogden was deployed as a Marine officer for active duty in Cuba.
He spent a total of 30 years in the military; 22 as an officer and eight in the reserves.
Sylvia Ogden was a teacher and homemaker.
The couple graduated together from Homestead High School in 1955.
Sylvia Ogden said she didn’t like Gerald Ogden in their junior year; as they had class together, he would pick on her by tripping her as she passed out papers.
She requested he be removed from her class and it was granted.
“In 12th grade, it turned into another story,” she said.
As her mother was on her deathbed, she told her daughter, “(Gerald Ogden) is the kind of man you marry. He will take care of you.”
Sylvia Ogden said up until the point when he became an officer, Gerald Ogden worked three jobs to provide for his family.
They had eight children, 27 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Sylvia Ogden suggested that in order to maintain a healthy marriage, “You keep doing what it took to get married.”
She said her husband is her “best friend.”
The deacon said that he appreciates the trust his wife has given him, and that he never was worried about her while he was away.
“It’s not easy when they uproot you and send you off to foreign land,” Gerald Ogden said. “I trust my wife and I love my wife.”
Bishop Mann said that couples like the Hawkinses and Ogdens are examples of the strong African American family units.
“We cannot allow the family unit to be destroyed,” said Mann.
(Samson X. Horne is a contributing writer to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
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