Members of the University of Central Oklahoma community commemorated Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful civil rights marches Tuesday.
The Martin Luther King Unity March was part of UCO’s annual King Week, which began with an MLK Day of Service on Monday. The events continue at 3 p.m. Wednesday with an oratory competition in the Nigh University Center and at 1:30 p.m. Thursday with a book club discussion on King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
King’s transforming life was based on nonviolent social change, and the many marches he led are part of his legacy.
In 1955, King received a doctorate of philosophy in systematic theology from Boston University. Later that year, after Rosa Parks was arrested, King was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, making him the bus boycott’s official spokesman.
On Nov. 13, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation is illegal.
In 1960, King was arrested during a sit-in waiting to be served at a restaurant.
In June 1963, King led 125,000 on a freedom walk in Detroit. In August that year, 250,000 marched with King in Washington, D.C., and heard King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. Six blocks away, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma. Two days later, King led a symbolic march to the bridge.
On March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking 12 miles a day, sleeping in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on March 25, they were 25,000 strong. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1968, King led a march in support of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tenn. At sunset on April 4 that same year King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.
On Tuesday, MeShawn Conley, UCO’s director of multicultural student services, spoke to participants assembled for the march on the Edmond campus.
Conley said King and other civil rights leaders came together to march for the rights of the oppressed and for the freedom of all. The sacrifices made during the Civil Rights Movement helped shape today’s world, Conley said.
“The idea was that we could not become a better community if we’re a separated community,” she said. “It was a vision, a dream that one day we will all work together, learn together and build a stronger community together. And in so many ways we have.”
It’s been nearly 45 years since King was assassinated, and many cannot imagine a world of white only bathrooms and segregated schools, Conley said.
“But that is also why we need to continue to learn about those who fought and sacrificed for our freedom, and to be inspired by their fortitude and their dedication,” she said.
Leaders need to carry on King’s legacy when it comes to today’s injustices so that 45 years from now, they will be unimaginable, Conley said.
Xavier Jackson, a senior journalism major at UCO from Oklahoma City, said he was there to support the march, which honors King’s legacy, and the UCO Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Jackson said the march and King Week are great for multicultural students such as himself, helping them feel like they are appreciated.
“I think it’s one of the best things that we do here on campus,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he’s always had a passion for the history of the 1960s, which is very relevant today. King helped pave the way for him to be a college student, for the first African-American president and for many other societal changes.
Jeanee Canada, a junior from Lawton, is the secretary of UCO’s Black Student Association, and led the singing of “We Shall Overcome” during the event, a powerful song during the Civil Rights Movement. Canada said the message of the song is unity.
“It’s about us all coming together and we can all do the things the song says,” she said.
Canada said when she thinks of King she thinks of his strength. Of all King’s messages and speeches boiled down to individuals being united.
UCO President Don Betz was one of several staff members to march from the Nigh University Center on a route that including walking along Second Street and University Drive.
Betz said UCO’s 3 Cs — Character, Community and Civility — mesh with King’s life, words and deeds. King’s approach of nonviolent social change is a timeless model.
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