MLK 50: Local civil rights activist feared King’s assassination would upend nonviolent movement

The community remembers King on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights icon’s assassination.

Jessie Gooding felt like he lost a close friend when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago today.

Gooding, 91, of Dayton, is a local activist who met King on several occasions and even traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 1963 March on Washington where King gave his now famous “I have a dream speech.”

Upon hearing of King’s death in 1968, Gooding said a “sick” feeling overcame him because he feared the push for a nonviolent civil rights movement would fall apart without one of its leaders.

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“I felt really sick,” Gooding said. “I said a real friend of America has been killed…It felt that (the assassination) might destroy everything King had proposed.”

King “was a giant of a man” and his legacy runs deep in the Miami Valley, said Derrick L. Foward, president of the Dayton NAACP. King made several visits to the area to give speeches and today local colleges and churches will ring their bells 39 times to commemorate the fallen civil rights leader — one bell for each year of his life.

‘It affected everybody’

Gooding is one of dozens of people in southwest Ohio who were struck by the reverberations of King’s sudden death at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. Gooding and fellow activists had to convince people that violence and rioting was not the way to honor King’s life, and they mostly succeeded at that in Dayton, he said.

“There were folks trying to organize violently and I was committed to the nonviolent ways that King had proposed,” Gooding said.

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Springfield NAACP president Denise Williams remembers just about everything that happened the day King died.

Williams was 13-years-old at the time and living in Dayton. Like Gooding, Williams said it felt like she had lost a family member.

“It was a little bit of a scary moment,” she said. “” It affected everybody. It’s like the world was in mourning.”

‘A call to action’

King gave speeches at four area colleges, including his wife Coretta Scott King’s alma mater: Antioch College.

Coretta Scott King was an activist before she met her husband and is often credited with pushing the baptist preacher toward more progressive causes, said Mila Cooper, executive director of the Coretta Scott King Center at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.

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Their legacies are “inseparable,” Cooper said, in part evidenced by the annual federal holiday Coretta Scott King pushed for after her husband’s death.

“She would say it’s a time of remembering and reflecting and honoring King and the movement,” Cooper said. “But, I think she would say it was a call to action as well.”

Wilberforce University —the oldest private historically black college in the country — gave King and his father, Martin Luther King Sr., honorary degrees on June 8, 1965. The same day King addressed Wilberforce’s graduates at the school’s 107th commencement ceremony.

Wilberforce has since named a building after King and hung a plaque at its entryway.

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Wilberforce President Elfred Anthony Pinkard said he wants students to recognize King’s legacy — and also to finish what the legendary civil rights leader started.

“While it’s history, it still reverberates today,” Pinkard said. “Even though we’re commemorating 50 years of the assassination of this really important historical figure, some of the issues he raised and some of the concerns are still with us today.”

‘A greater appreciation’

King’s historical ties to the area are not lost on Shanyael Hinton, a junior from Columbus studying at Wilberforce. The fact that King visited the school is always something Hinton says she brings up when talking to friends and prospective students.

Fifty years is a long time, but some students said recent escalations in racial tensions have brought King’s battle for equality to the forefront.

“I feel like we’re starting to have a greater appreciation for him, especially with all the news going on today,” said Grace Kozurek, a University of Dayton freshman.

Demetrious Young, a senior at Central State University, said King might look at recent events and think that the underlying issues of his generation haven’t changed.

“He would say that everything is happening again,” Young said.



Radio: Tune in to AM1290 and News 95.7 WHIO for a special report starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, including a moment of silence.

TV: Watch Newscenter 7 starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday for reports honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. At 7 p.m., Channel 7 will have a moment of silence to mark the time King was killed on April 4, 1968.


MLK 50 Events

The following area events are scheduled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assasination.


• 7:01 p.m., National Civil Rights Museum bell toll for King

• 7:05 p.m., Ohio bells ring for King. A number of area colleges and organizations are planning to ring their bells 39 times in honor of King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination on Wednesday evening.

• University of Dayton

• Wright State

• Wittenberg University

• Carillon Park

• Omega Baptist Church

Thursday, April 12

• 7 p.m., union ballroom, Terri Freeman, a UD alumnus who serves as president of the National Civil Rights Museum, will give a speech.


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