ONU hosted and conducted several events in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s appearance on campus 50 years ago leading to the unveiling of a statue of his likeness.
The first event was a panel at the Freed Center for Performing Arts Biggs Theatre, a group of seven individuals who, at the time of Dr. King’s speech, were students, professors and staff at ONU reflected with comments the similarity of the themes of 1968 to the themes of today.
The event began with remarks from President Daniel DiBiasio who reflected on the significance of the event and related the divided political and social environment of the U.S. today to that of the speech in 1968, which was the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
“From marchers at Charlottesville, Virginia to the nation’s leader, we’ve recently heard words of discord and division regarding race. All the more reason to recall the words Dr. King spoke in 1968 and be inspired by them in 2018.”
Reverend David MacDonald of Religious Life led the discussion of the panel interspersed with readings of reflections by other alumni who were students and attended the speech. The panel members themselves reflected
on the variety of people who witnessed and were influenced by Dr. King, differing in occupation, race and class.
There were several former students on the panel including Joel Weaver, who studied pharmacy in 1968 and is now a pharmacist. Weaver was almost able to ride in the car with Rev. James S Udy, a former classmate of Dr. King’s and the main reason for his appearance at ONU, to pick up Dr. King from the airport.
Sadika White is one of the founding members of ONU’s Black Student Union and was one of less than thirty African-American students who attended ONU in 1968. “I had on a white blazer and why was that important?” She later went on to explain how important of a moment the speech was for her life and her African-American colleagues, having them wear their best clothes.
Bob Roberts was a student studying Education at ONU in 1968 when he attended King’s speech, “I think it’s important to remember that, that was a day very different than a day like today because there were so many pressures on young people on campus including the Vietnam War, including the draft, including trying to graduate and get a diploma and that the so-called black problem was a problem somewhere else, not a problem
in Ada…So walking into the gym that day was very different than walking out of the gym that day.”
Bob Parsons, an African-American and sophomore football player in 1968, told the audience, “If you haven’t heard the speech, go online and listen to it and you’ll find he was five decades ahead of his time.”
The distinguished Terry Keiser had just begun teaching as a professor of Biology, at the beginning of his 50-year tenure at ONU. For him, the problems of that time are still present today. Professor Alfred Cohoe who also had a decades-long career at ONU witnessed the speech as a faculty member.
Monty Siekerman was Director of Public Information at ONU in 1968, which at
the time was a very small department. He had just started working at ONU the Fall before the speech. Siekerman took all of the photos of the event that are still around today, positioned right near MLK during the speech.
He recalled, “Working at a university, I have heard a number of speakers, but no one compares with him.”
The discussion also had several students read excerpts from other alumni present at the speech. Many of them reflecting on the importance of keepsakes from the visit such as photos of one woman sitting on the elevated running track during the speech, the picture is one of her most cherished possessions.
This panel discussion was followed by two more panel and discussion based events. The next event, “Dr. King’s Vision in the Present Social Justice Movement” a panel discussion was held in February with a third panel and conversation, “Would Dr. King Approve of your Actions?: Civil Disobedience, Black Lives Matter and Law Enforcement Relationships”
The work and dedication of ONU’s planning committee, Provost Maria Cronley, Professor Melissa Eddings-Mancuso, Director of Multicultural Development LaShonda Gurley, Archivist Paul Logsdon, Dr. John Lomax, Reverend David MacDonald, Director of Physical Plant Marc Staley, Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Adriane Thompson-Bradshaw, Vice President for Advancement Shannon Spencer and President Daniel DiBiasio all came to fruition in April at a ceremony remembering King’s impact with special guests and the unveiling of the statue.
On April 17th, the ceremony held at the chapel began at 11:30 to a full house where every seat was filled and almost every space on the floor had someone standing or sitting in it with the doorways being full, hundreds of members of the campus community watched.
Special guest, Dr. Christopher Manner of Loyola University Chicago gave a brief but detailed history of Dr. King’s actions during the civil rights movement highlighting the importance of some of Dr. King’s actions that were not revered in his time.
“Determined to do what was right instead of what was popular, King challenged the country to recognize the connection between racism at home and militarism abroad. This was a move that brought condemnation from civil rights leaders and his greatest ally President Lyndon B. Johnson. Gone were the days of widespread acclaim and some even wondered if he was the most hated man in America. Perhaps it was these concerns that led Ohio Northern President Samuel Meyer to tell university chaplain James Udy that ONU could not afford to cancel King’s speech,”
Dr. Manning began to conclude his speech comparing the issues of students today and yesterday citing the war and drugs and the proliferation of activating shooting, He had a final comment to the audience, “In closing, I would ask you to Remember Dr. King in the face of today’s challenges. But not the gratifying Dr. King, the ‘I Have a Dream’ King. Rather the Dr. King who said yes to challenge the war in Vietnam and I ask you to recall Rosa Parks, not the kindly elderly Rosa Parks but the determined Rosa Parks who said yes, she would face off against the bus operator. And I ask you to recall ONU’s own James Udy who said yes he would find a way to bring King here. So when you are asked to step up to the challenges of today and only you can find the same audacity of these women and men and say yes I will, because today that kind of courage is needed now more than ever.”
The final special guest was Dr. Reverend Bernard Lafayette Jr., a member of Dr. King’s inner circle, Cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a protégé of Dr. King before his assassination.
Rev Lafayette, spoke boldly to the ONU community, commending its commitment to what Dr. King stood for. He urged the community to continue to stand up for progressive ideas that allow all those of different backgrounds and races to have the same opportunities. He closed his remarks with, “So that’s our responsibility now to help people understand where we are in history at this particular time… What you’re able to accomplish and what you’re able to accomplish today is to unveil Dr. King’s presence to the world.”
The ONU community gathered at the crossroads between Taft Memorial,
The Petit College of Law, Weber Hall and Wilson Art Center. There in the middle, the sculptor Tad, who also created the Henry Solomon Lehr center near the Dick College of Business, gave a brief introduction to his statue, “I honestly was thrilled, the opportunity of a lifetime for any sculptor to celebrate a man such as Dr. King. As soon as the jubilation of the task set in, then the task set in, the gravity of the task set in…It was my goal to create a statue of a man of nonviolence, a man of gratitude and strength.”
President DiBiasio had a final remark before the statue unveiling, “It stands as a call to our campus community to reaffirm and renew our efforts to achieve strength through diversity and strive to do so in the words of Dr. King, ‘With the fierce urgency of now.'”
Now the likeness of Dr. King stands, cast in bronze in the same position he held when he spoke to ONU, at the podium tall and imposing to remind all those that pass it of the issues of the 1960s and the issue of today. His statue is in front of a plaque that reflects ONU’s previous commitment to Dr. King’s importance, now reinvigorated.