Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence continues

US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington. 

Berenice Liborio

When Senior Vice President Thomas Hill was 18 years old, one of his role models was killed.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., which shocked and disappointed both Hill and the rest of the nation.

“[When] it happened, it was almost like it was in the neighborhood,” Hill said. “There was so much hope resting with him. I mean he was that beacon, the hope … and to have him be taken away from us, it was devastating.”

Hill attended Arkansas State University, about 70 miles from Memphis, where King was assassinated. Hill participated in marches after King’s assassination, a time when people were upset and took to the streets.

“Unfortunately, things got out of hand because there was some destruction that took place — people breaking windows and those kinds of things,” Hill said.

Old Iowa State Daily articles following King’s assassination said ISU students held gatherings and demonstrations in remembrance of King.

“Reaction to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was seen on the Iowa State Campus yesterday in the form of an active demonstration in the Commons, Memorial Union, and a silent vigil on the steps of Beardshear Hall,” according to an April 6, 1968 Iowa State Daily article.

The same article also describes a demonstration where about 50 black students gathered in the commons of the Memorial Union with trays and glasses of water.

“All the demonstrators then stood; one Negro proposed a toast to ‘black unity on campus.’ Then, before the disbelieving stares of onlookers, they threw their glasses on the floor, turned over the tables and chairs and walked out,” according to the article.

In an article from the April 9, 1968, edition of the Daily, 70 students and Ames residents participated in a march in Des Moines on April 7, 1968, in remembrance of King.

Nearly 50 years later, after the death of Michael Brown went viral, another set of protesters took to the streets to share their voices.

Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.  As days passed, hundreds of citizens responded in protests — some of which turned violent by both protesters and police — in reaction to the shooting.

Hill said he believes the events in the Ferguson case, though not the same situation, may bring back old issues relating to the Civil Rights Movement.

“You feared the police more than you feared other folk because they legally had guns and had the authority and all that and they abused that during the civil rights era,” Hill said. “And so what’s happening with Ferguson — while it’s not exactly the same thing — it’s along those lines. You have the people who swore to protect and serve and those are the ones who are in some instances the ones hurting.”

Iowa State multicultural organizations have voiced their own thoughts by holding protests on campus, including a die in at Parks Library on Dec. 10, where about 200 students and Ames residents “died” by lying on the ground for four and a half minutes to represent the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body was on the ground.

On Friday, Dec. 12, about 300 Ames residents and ISU students participated in a silent march that began outside Parks Library and looped around central campus to protest what had happened in Ferguson, Mo., and in Staten Island, N.Y.

Hill said he thought both ISU protests were effective in that they were respectful and nonviolent. In doing so, the protesters made their points clear. He said he believed that the silent march relates to the marches King used to lead.

“People did what they were supposed to do, had goals and went about their business. So in that regard, I think it was very comparable to the protest during Martin’s time,” Hill said.

One of the about 10 multicultural student organizations involved in planning the protests was the Black Student Alliance. Jayda Lewis, senior in political science and speech communications and president of the alliance, said the silent march exceeded her expectations.

“It was amazing,” Lewis said. “The march that we did was an even bigger turnout [than I thought] and what was really surprising to me was it wasn’t just blacks. There was an ample amount of different races and significant amount of whites in our march.”

Lewis said she found the fact that other campuses in Iowa and around the nation held silent marches to be inspiring. She said part of the reason they wanted to hold a peaceful silent march was because the group didn’t want to give off the impression that their protests would turn into ones similar to ones in Ferguson, Mo.

“What we tried to shy away from was violence and doing something that is more empowering and movable,” Lewis said. “We wanted to do something more inspirational.”

Marchers held signs that said phrases such as: “Black Lives Matter”, “my skin color is not a threat”, “I can’t breathe” and “it could have been me.”

After the march, Hill spoke to the group outside of Parks Library, thanking them for their willingness to participate and to “make it known that what is going on is unacceptable.”

“I’m a product of the ’60s. In 2014, I never thought we’d be doing the same things we did in the ’60s. While we made some progress, we’ve still got a long ways to go,” Hill said that day. “Anybody who decides that this isn’t important, we stand the chance of repeating history. We can’t do that.”

With the topics of racism that have resurfaced from Trayvon Martin to Eric Garner to Michael Brown’s case, Hill said he believes that we need more leaders like King to lead change. Though, he also said he doesn’t believe there could be another Martin Luther King Jr.

“I think [King] was the start,” Hill said. “He was one of the people to get this thing started. We need many Martins to get out there and do this.”