Library to host panel with civil rights activists on MLK Day

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 11, 2017

 Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Olga Popova/Shutterstock

TROY — De Witt S. Dykes Jr., an associate professor who teaches African-American history at Oakland University, said he is not sure people realize the extent that students played in the civil rights movement and “transforming America.” 

He will share his thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement during a program at the Troy Public Library titled “Remembering the Civil Rights Movement with Those Who Were There.” John Hardy will talk about helping to register black citizens in Mississippi to vote in the early 1960s when he was a student, and Dorothy Aldridge, who served as director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and worked with Stokely Carmichael, Hubert “Rap” Brown and Rosa Parks, will join him. 

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Michael Warren will moderate the panel. He is the co-creator of Patriot Week. He spearheaded Patriot Week in 2009 with his daughter, Leah, who was 10 at the time.

Erin Chapman, the library’s adult reference librarian, said the program grew out of a relationship the library established with Oakland University and Warren. 

“(Dykes) said he teaches a class on civil rights and had a lot to contribute to the subject of civil rights. He was able to connect me with the other speakers,” Chapman said. “I thought it would be more interesting to have three people who experienced the civil rights movement on the first line. Judge Warren’s presidential lectures presented at the library were part of Patriot Week, and he hoped to expand the program throughout the year.”

“Patriot Week renews America’s spirit by celebrating the first principles, founding fathers and other patriots, vital documents and speeches, and flags that make America the greatest nation in world history,” Warren said via email. “Many of (the) current holidays have become overly commercialized or have lost their deeper meaning. We need to invigorate our appreciation and understanding of America’s spirit. Anchored by the key dates of Sept. 11 (the anniversary of the terrorist attacks) and Sept. 17 (Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution by our Founding Fathers), the schedule for each day has a separate focus. We celebrate the first principle of equality with two days (one for race, and one for gender). We also celebrate Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. in connection with racial equality.”

For more about Patriot Week, visit www.PatriotWeek.org.

“Only by understanding the sacrifices and enormous efforts that we have taken can (we) continue to maintain and advance the civil rights struggle,” Warren said. “Learning firsthand from these civil rights icons can help ensure further momentum to fulfilling America’s promise.”

He said he will present a short overview of the Declaration of Independence and the overall struggle to achieve civil rights. 

“I will then posit questions to each of the panelists and moderate the discussion. There will be a Q & A session at the end,” he said. 

Warren said he’s hoping attendees will have a “renewed and deeper understanding of our first principle of equality, a broader knowledge of the civil rights efforts, and the inspiration to be directly engaged in helping better achieve equality across America.”

Dykes said that King was a “uniquely prepared leader with his speaking ability and education to lead the Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott.” 

He said he thinks that King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a more significant document than his “I Have a Dream” speech. 

He noted that Hardy and Aldridge were both actively involved as students, participated in demonstrations and joined nonviolent student protests. 

“Others, such as ministers, had full-time jobs,” Dykes said. “Many students dropped out of school to concentrate on civil rights and made enormous sacrifices,” he said.  

Dykes said Hardy went back to school and retired as a teacher in Detroit Public Schools. Aldridge is an active board member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights. 

Dykes said the civil rights movement developed in stages, with the NAACP playing an important part in the demonstrations and in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case that ended segregation in schools. 

He said the demonstrations and confrontations helped to end segregation at lunch counters, hotels, theaters, parks and swimming pools.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only an individual part of the movement. I think he would say … he was symbolic of those named and unnamed.” 

“Remembering the Civil Rights Movement with Those Who Were There” will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Troy Public Library, 510 W. Big Beaver Road. Register by calling (248) 524-3534 or visit troypl.org.