Whitman Celebrates Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sam Grainger-Shuba

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From Jan. 20-30, the Glover Alston Center and Whitman College’s Intercultural Center celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the important contributions made by leaders of the Civil Rights Movement during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history.

While the federal holiday honoring King is Jan. 20, the Intercultural Center devoted 10 days to celebrating his life and the achievements of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Whitman has organized commemorative events for King since the late 1980s, according to Intercultural Center Director Matthew Ozuna.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there was a march and candlelight vigil in honor of the leader who inspired millions. This served as the kick-off to their full schedule of events.

“It’s important to remember that the Civil Rights Movement is ongoing. Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fully realized,” said Ozuna. “Civil rights leaders continue to raise issues of safe and affordable housing, income inequality and the working poor, women’s rights, immigrant rights, mass incarceration, gun violence, religious intolerance and interfaith work, voting rights, national spending priorities and LGBT equality. We all, someway, can lend support to these issues and affect positive, nonviolent social change.”

Last Thursday, Jan. 23, students and Walla Walla community members trickled into the GAC for a screening of the documentary “Freedom Riders.”

“I have heard about the Freedom Rides, but I’m not all that familiar with it,” said Rubio Jimenez, a Walla Walla University student who attended the screening. “Learning about mistakes we made in the past helps us not repeat them in the future.”

The 2010 film, directed by Stanley Nelson, chronicles the story of a group of over 100 activists who challenged racial segregation not only in the American interstate transport system, but also in other aspects of southern American life by taking freedom rides into the deep south.

“I don’t have huge awareness of the issue, so I thought that I would expand it,” said sophomore Sarah Blacher. “It was a really important time, and I would like to be better informed about it.”

On Monday, Jan. 27, Kate Shuster gave a presentation entitled “Why the Movement Matters: Learning from America’s Civil Rights Struggles” as a kick-off event for Whitman Teaches the Movement. WTTM is a collaboration by Whitman College, Walla Walla Public Schools and the Southern Poverty Center’s Teaching Tolerance project. The program trains Whitman students to go into local classrooms to teach creative, historically specific lessons on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to these activities, the Intercultural Center is hosting Civil Rights activist Diane Nash, who will facilitate a workshop with student leaders called “Nonviolent Resistance and Campaigning.” On Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. she will give a public talk in Cordiner Hall about her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Nash is a leader of the sit-in movement in Nashville, Tenn., a Freedom Rides organizer and a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

“The federal holiday should be embraced by all,” said Ozuna. “Not only does it recognize the life and achievements of Dr. King; it’s the only federal holiday to celebrate community service. The holiday serves as a wonderful opportunity for members of the Whitman and Walla Walla communities––from all backgrounds and beliefs––to come together, overcome indifference and build relationships of trust, tolerance and respect.”

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