Civil rights activist, Southwest Minnesota State University professor reflect on Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy at MTSU


Photo courtesy of Biography.com 

Story by Rachael Anne Keisling / Contributing Writer 

Civil rights activist Leslie McLemore and Southwest Minnesota State University professor Jeff Kolnick reflected on the legacy that Martin Luther King Jr. left behind in the Business and Aerospace Building State Farm Room on Thursday.

The presentation covered King’s college graduation, involvement with the civil rights movement, his visits to India and Ghana and his assassination in April 1968.

As Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, the speakers recounted how they first heard that the civil rights leader was assassinated. McLemore stated that he was a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst when he heard on the radio about King’s death in Memphis, Tennessee, and Kolnick was riding in a car as a nine year old with his mother in Los Angeles when he heard the announcement on the radio.

Kolnick described King as a “scholar, profound lecturer and a man of faith.”

He said that, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, King was nearly killed after his home was bombed “due to the constant challenging of the white supremacists and militarism.”

McLemore then discussed his encounter with King as a college student.

“King was not just a man known for his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech but a family man,” McLemore said.

The first time McLemore spoke with King was in 1963 at a First Baptist Church in Clarksdale, Mississippi. McLemore stated that King came down to Clarksdale in support of a boycott that was organized by Aaron Henry. Henry was an African-American head of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, a civil rights activist and founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

During his years as a student in the ‘60s, McLemore participated in civil rights demonstrations, including a protest at a movie theater in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The protest was organized due to the theater not allowing African-Americans to sit in the downstairs area with the other patrons. 

McLemore and Kolnick suggested that students read the books “Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero,” written by Vincent Harding, and “At the Dark End of the Street,” written by Danielle McGuire, for more information about King and the African-American women who were civil rights activists in the ‘60s.

“(Women) were a force in the civil rights movement,” McLemore said. 

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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  1. […] “Civil rights activist, Southwest Minnesota State University professor reflect on Martin Luthe…: McLemore stated that he was a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst when he heard on […]

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