(WBIR) This weekend marked the end of a career spanning more than five decades for one of East Tennessee's most storied residents.
Reverend Harold Middlebrook gave his first official sermon more than 50 years ago on January 1, 1961. On Sunday, he gave his last sermon as pastor at Canaan Baptist Church in Knoxville.
Although Middlebrook is stepping away from the church's day-to-day operations, he said he has no intention of retiring from service.
"What this means is that I just don't have to be responsible for making sure the light bill is paid and making sure the salaries are paid and making sure that people are in place to do what they need to do. But I'll still keep the vision, the mission, and purpose for why I'm here," Middlebrook said.
Throughout his life, Reverend Middlebrook was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and marched alongside him during the civil rights movement.
HomeGrown : Reverend Harold Middlebrook
Reverend Middlebrook witnessed Dr. King's final speech...and his assassination, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, on April 4, 1968.
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In 1977, Middlebrook came to Knoxville and has served as a pastor in East Tennessee ever since. Now, the reverend is turning the movement over to a younger generation.
"I want to take the young people...motivate them, encourage them, and help them, that the work goes on even after I'm gone," Middlebrook said.
He said he's grateful his congregation has instilled a sense of mission, purpose and direction in the community. And as Middlebrook retires, he said he still plans to be actively involved in service throughout the area.
"All of us come through life for a short period of time. We're not going to be here forever, but what I hope is that I can make such an impression upon people that I can give of myself so that other people can be motivated to carry the work on. If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain," Middlebrook said.