USF students and faculty celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

01/12/12 Janelle Irwin
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Thursday afternoon the University of South Florida kicked off their 25th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior commemorative week. Two guest speakers were experts on the Freedom Riders, a civil rights activism group that Dr. King supported. One of them, Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Junior was one of the students who rode public buses through the segregated South in the early 1960s. And he was with King on the morning he was shot in Memphis.

"I got on the plane five hours later after I had a conversation with him that morning. In fact I still have my hotel key. Lorraine motel key. His was, I think, 306. Yeah, mine was 206. Yeah, downstairs. When I arrived at Washington airport in DC, I learned that Martin Luther King had been shot. He was supposed to have been following me later that week. He finally made it. Yeah. That monument on the Mall. it took him a long time to get there, but he finally made it in good form."

Dr. Raymond Arsenault is a USF professor and the author of a book about the Freedom Riders that was made into a documentary. Arsenault said it is important to remember all civil rights movements when honoring King.

"He did not initiate the Freedom Rides. He was certainly a supporter. He spoke for them. He raised funds. He was an important figure. But it was a collective enterprise and I think that's the message really of the Freedom Rides. It's an empowering story."

Arsenault said King inspired a lot of people. Even some who weren’t black. Nora Wagner was a 44-year-old blind woman who was white. But when she heard about the Freedom Riders and how they were being arrested and brutalized, she wanted to be a part of the movement.

"The point of the story is, she went back to Rochester the rest of her life and she was involved in the movement as much as she could be. She spoke to school groups and just dedicated the rest of her life to civil rights. When the Norma Wagner's of the world feel compelled to make a stand like that..."

And King’s work is still inspiring people today. USF student Rene Wilder said it’s an important time of year to further his mission to bring equality to all people.

"A lot of the people here who already didn't have unity with each other, we're starting to do that because we realize that, now and it took us years to realize what the purpose of that was, was to bring everyone together. Not just blacks, not just whites, it was to bring us all together. So, it's just another reminder throughout the year that that's what the purpose was for and that's what we have to continue to fight for."

USF’s celebration of King’s life and accomplishments will continue into next week. A candlelight vigil will be held on Tuesday night at the USF MLK Plaza as well as a screening of the Freedom Riders film on Wednesday night. The celebrations will conclude on Thursday evening with keynote speaker Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, an education professor at Columbia.

Jan. 17th - Candlelight Vigil with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 7-8pm at USF MLK Plaza

Jan. 18th - Freedom Riders Movie, 8-11:30pm at MSC Oval Theatre

Jan. 19th - MLK Convocation with keynote speaker, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill from 8-9:30pm at the Marshall Center Ballroom

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