From King Hall to D.C.: remembering the 'dream'
By Dave Jones
Associate Executive Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed was there, in Washington, D.C., exulting in the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago.
Dean Kevin Johnson was here, no less reflective, sitting in his office at the School of Law, in a building that bears King’s name.
“While many buildings on university campuses are named for their most generous donors, ours is named for the civil rights icon of his generation, who stood for liberty and justice for all,” Johnson wrote last week to the King Hall community. “I know that means a lot to everyone in the King Hall community, from faculty and staff to students and alumni.” Read the dean's online tribute.
The law school had opened in temporary quarters in 1965 and its building was under construction in 1968 when King was assassinated. “Faculty, staff and students were profoundly affected by Dr. King’s death and urged campus administrators to name the building after him,” Johnson wrote, and so it was — officially dedicated on April 12, 1969, one year and eight days after King’s death.
King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew more than 250,000 people to the National Mall.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, Reed — who leads the Office of Campus Community Relations — was among tens of thousands of people who participated in a 50-year-anniversary re-enactment.
“It was an awesome and an inspiring experience,” Reed told Dateline UC Davis. “I felt a sense of both pride and elation in how much growth in civil rights our country has experienced over the last 50 years, but also a sense of disappointment and weariness in the fact that some issues at the center of the 1963 march still persist in our nation today.”
A professor’s pride
Fifty years ago in San Francisco, an African American girl, a young teenager in high school, knew the march was happening “and that it had some meaning to me. ... It made me proud.” Today, she is Halifu Osumare (a name she took to reflect her African roots), professor and director of the African American and African Studies Program, and she is feeling the same pride.
She said last week’s commemoration showed "how far we have come in living out America’s founding principles and how much we still have to accomplish to secure ongoing rights, in terms of race and class, for all Americans.”
Osumare cited the national issues of eroding black and student voting rights, and the struggle to increase the minimum wage for fast food workers, as well as recent vandalism and scribbled racial epithets at UC Davis.
“These issues signify that the struggle for equality is never over,” she said.
Reed, who is African American, gave these examples: higher unemployment among African Americans; obstacles and legal tactics to suppress voter rights, especially among poor and underrepresented minority communities; and issues of racial profiling and bigotry.
‘Accepting the responsibility’
Reed said he wore several “hats” on his trip to Washington. He represented UC Davis, he marched with the American Association for Affirmative Action (he’s an expert on federal requirements) and he attended the A. Philip Randolph Institute National Conference (Randolph led the 1963 March on Washington).
“I also participated on a personal note,” Reed said, “because I felt a sense of responsibility to stand up, speak out and march in support of those who had done so before me, recognizing that I had benefitted from their social activism, sacrifices and struggle to gain civil rights and equal opportunity for all Americans to live and fulfill Dr. King’s ‘dream.’
“And accepting the responsibility to continue to press on until the dream is achieved for all.”
Reed was 11 at the time of King’s speech. “I was one of the first five African Americans to be bused from my neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to an all-white middle school,” Reed told The Sacramento Bee for a story published in connection with his trip to Washington.
“I was treated as some kind of alien invader, and the question always was, ‘Why are you at our school?’
“I lamented why white kids couldn’t be bused to my neighborhood of Hazelwood and why my schools couldn’t have been of the same quality of the schools I was bused to.
“The march was designed to provide people equal opportunity and equal access. … The country has changed tremendously for the better, and I'm happy we’re commemorating where we were with an eye toward where we want to go.”
‘No finer symbol of justice’
When the speeches ended at the Lincoln Memorial, Reed and thousands of others marched to the Washington Monument — reversing the path of the original march. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial sits along the route today.
The law school stands as a memorial, too. “Today is a day to celebrate our community’s deep ties to Dr. King and his dream,” wrote Dean Johnson, author of How Did You Get to be Mexican? A White/Brown Man’s Search for Identity (1999). He posted his tribute on the actual anniversary date, Aug. 28, the day President Barack Obama spoke on the mall.
Johnson noted a portion of then-U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren’s remarks at the King Hall dedication — words since inscribed on a plaque at the building’s entrance: “In this fractured and strident world in which we live, there could be no finer symbol of justice at a law school than to have its house of learning bear the name of the gentle Martin Luther King.”
Earlier this year, the law school hosted its own celebration of King’s legacy: “Remembering Our Roots,” featuring Clarence B. Jones, King’s personal attorney and speechwriter who helped write the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Osumare called the original March on Washington “a crucial turning point that demonstrated the power of the people to bring about the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
Last week’s commemoration, she said, was “a necessary reminder … important to the continuing socioeconomic struggles of the 21st century.”
“As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said in the 19th century, ‘Power never concedes without a struggle,’ and therefore the push for equality and human dignity continues internationally, nationally and locally here at UC Davis.”
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