Fifty years after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968 became law, spearheaded by the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the Dayton region will join the nation in honoring King for his contributions to the fight for equality.
This year also marks the 50 year anniversary of the civil rights leader’s assassination.
“I think it’s a very important time in American history to be talking about Martin Luther King,” said Wil Haygood, journalist and author known for his Washington Post article that became the 2013 movie “The Butler.”
Haygood is the keynote speaker at the University of Dayton’s annual Martin Luther King Jr Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday, Jan. 16. Organizers say the breakfast is sold out.
Haygood’s appearance at UD is one of several events around the region honoring King this week, including the annual MLK Memorial Day March and Rally, Youth Celebration and MLK Banquet Celebration downtown on Monday, the official holiday.
Haygood said the heroism and courage of King has always inspired him, in his own life and in his writing career.
“Part of why it is important to teach (about King) is you have moments like this in American history when very powerful leaders are attacking immigrants, trying to scale back the muscle of the Voting Rights Act, talking in openly racist and sexist language and we need that moral guide post, that moral lantern swinging in the dark,” Haygood said. “It takes that type of collective effort to battle up against the darkness, and time and time again (King) shows us the way.”
UD Martin Luther King Committee chairs, Versalle Washington and Christina Smith said they invited Haygood to speak because of his ability to connect history to the present day.
“Our founders were committed to addressing the needs of the times, and that is what Dr. King was doing,” Smith said. “This is what we should be doing.”
Roger Crum, professor at UD and member of the King committee said events in the past year have heightened the timeliness of such a conservation about King.
“The last six months have brought forward a whole host of issues that were just boiling under the surface, from Charlottesville to Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes,” Crum said.
“The beautiful mantra of Dr. King was always that you must spread light to unravel the darkness,” Haygood said.
The Dayton-wide march to honor King, organized by MLK - Dayton, Inc. is one of the highlights of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.
The march begins at 10 a.m. at Drew Health Center, 1323 W. Third Street. The march will happen even if there’s “rain, snow or sleet” said MLK Dayton president Anthony Whitmore.
“Our hope is that you walk with someone that doesn’t look like you or think like you,” Whitmore said.
Participants will march from the Drew Health Center across the Peace Bridge to the Dayton Convention Center for an 11 a.m. rally.
A youth program is scheduled for 11 a.m. and a banquet is planned for 6 p.m. at the convention center. Motivational speaker David Anthony Johnson will be the featured guest at both events.
“Dr. King, if he were around, he would still be marching,” Whitmore said.
Crum said UD is planning more events for April 2018. One on the day of King’s last speech and one the next day, the day of his assassination.
King died April 4, 1968, after being shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. He had delivered his last speech the evening before at a rally supporting striking sanitation workers.
King, a husband, pastor, scholar and father of four children, would have turned 89 this month.