Stillwater News Press

Local News

August 28, 2013

OSU diversity official: King's message as important today as 50 years ago

STILLWATER, Okla. — Fifty years ago Wednesday, a 34-year-old clergyman stood at a podium in Washington, D.C., and proclaimed to the multitudes in attendance that “I have a dream.”

Martin Luther King’s 17-minute speech, one of the defining moments of the American Civil Rights Movement, will be remembered by thousands of people who are expected to attend an anniversary celebration Wednesday at the National Mall.

President Barack Obama will conclude the festivities with his remarks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his iconic March on Washington speech in 1963.

Several civil rights leaders also will speak at Wednesday’s celebration, under the banner of “March for Jobs and Justice.”

During an address Saturday in Washington, a son of the slain civil rights leader said the “journey is not complete.”

“This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration,” said Martin Luther King III. “Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”

“That’s absolutely correct,” said Jason Kirksey, associate vice president for Institutional Diversity at Oklahoma State University. “Dr. King’s epic words are a call to action for all of us as Americans.”

Kirksey said King’s address created a greater sense of awareness of the plight of African-Americans, and the words King used in 1963 are as true and important today as they were 50 years ago.

Several Stillwater residents said race relations are improving, but there still is a long way to go before true racial equality exists.

Birdie Neal was only a small child when King delivered his famous speech. But the longtime member of Lawson Temple Church of God in Christ in Stillwater said the message of the speech continues to resonate.

“(Race relations) have improved but there still is work to be done,” Neal said. “When people start respecting each other as humans then that’s when things get better. People have to see people as God sees people. You look at TV and see things going on nationally and even locally, and you can see work still needs to be done.”

Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., Sam Robertson witnessed racial tensions first-hand. In August 1963, he was set to enter his freshman year at Oklahoma State.

“That was a very volatile summer,” said Robertson, vice president of the Black Alumni Society at OSU. “People were worried if the March would be peaceful or not.”

Robertson said the focus of King’s speech really was about wages, jobs and access, issues that still need to be addressed today.

“We’ve come a long way. We even have a black president,” Robertson said. “But I shudder to think what might happen if people think that all the (racial) issues are resolved.”

Robertson, 68, said many young people do not have a full appreciation for King’s speech and what it means.

“They aren’t focused on it like we were,” he said. “The can’t possibly perceive it like I did.”

Karen Washington, choir director and financial secretary at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Stillwater, said racial discrimination still exists, although in many circumstances, it is a subtle racism.

“It’s quieter now,” she said. “They used to have signs on the door saying you could not go into a place. There may not be a sign on the door anymore but there is a sign in their heart. (Racism) is not gone.”

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