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Located in downtown Washington, D.C., near the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, the statue and memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. honors his legacy and the struggle for freedom, equality and justice.
Located in downtown Washington, D.C., near the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, the statue and memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. honors his legacy and the struggle for freedom, equality and justice.

‘I have a dream’

Photos by iStock and UD Photo Services

UD scholars reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact and legacy

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a celebration of the life and legacy of the civil rights activist. His work significantly impacted history and the lives of so many people. This year the holiday falls on Monday, Jan. 21, and is observed as a national day of service.

It’s scary to think of where the world would be without King’s contributions, said Carol Henderson, University of Delaware vice provost for diversity and professor of Africana Studies.

Carol Henderson
Carol Henderson

“I would not be at UD if it had not been for King,” Henderson said. “I still believe in the dream even though people try to destroy it, sully it, dismantle it and get us to disbelieve that it even exists. I still believe in that dream and I think that’s what influences the work I do as the vice provost for diversity because that is front and center.”

An activist, pastor and teacher, King’s efforts aided in the passage of significant federal legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. He was also a leader in community building across religious and cultural groups.

King delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with some 250,000 people watching on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. King, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, is honored with a memorial in Washington.

Leland Ware, who is the Louis L. Redding Chair for the study of law and public policy in UD’s Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration and professor of Africana Studies, said King greatly influenced his life.

“Through the gains of the civil rights movement, I was able to take advantage of expanded educational opportunities to attend college and law school,” Ware said. “My career was aided immeasurably.”

Trevor A. Dawes, vice provost for libraries and museums and May Morris University Librarian, said he sees King’s legacy as a promise and a call to action for the purpose of eventually achieving racial equality.

Leland Ware
Leland Ware

“I take this call to action seriously,” Dawes said. “I do so by identifying opportunities and implementing programs that ‘level the playing field.’ I am one of only a handful of people of color who leads a large academic/research library. I believe, therefore, that I have an obligation to help provide opportunities for other people from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to find their place in the library and information science professions.”

Henderson said she has seen progress in achieving racial equality and opportunity, but there is too much undone.

“I think if King was alive today he would be hurt and wounded by the conditions in the African American community,” Henderson said.

Even with the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter, Ware noted that some people argue that the overall goals of the civil rights movement have been achieved and that racism is largely over. Such people see any problems as isolated incidents, he said.  

“The advances have not been as significant as people think,” Ware said.

Discussions of race in America sometimes involve the phrase “post-racial,” but even if equality is someday achieved, that is not possible, Henderson said.

“To be post-racial would mean America would have to start over because it was racial when it began,” she said. Referring to the U.S. Constitution and the way slaves were counted at the time of its writing for the sake of representation in the House of Representatives, Henderson added, “When you have in our founding documents, where black people are three-fifths beings, you can’t say it’s post-racial.”

Trevor A. Dawes
Trevor A. Dawes

Dawes added to this idea, noting there are so many barriers that people of color have yet to breath through.

“I hope for the day when a person of color achieves something outstanding and is not referenced as ‘the first black person who …,’ or the ‘first Latina who …,’” Dawes said. “The fact that we are still making statements like that in 2019 is astonishing and shows that we really, as a society, have not made that much progress in the last 50 years.”

He suggested people take the time to learn and gain a better understanding of history. UD’s Library, Museums and Press houses collections and other resources that delve much deeper into the life of King and the history of the civil rights movement, Dawes said.

Often people honor King on MLK Day by participating in service projects. While this is a good start and aligns with King’s teachings and practices, Dawes said there is more that can be done.

“I think he would want us to identify ways each and every day to operate with a spirit of servitude in everything we do and that doesn’t have to be limited to a project,” he said. “He would want us to serve mankind by always exuding love, compassion, understanding and good will towards everyone.”

Honoring Dr. King with service

UD’s Residence Life and Housing, in collaboration with the Blue Hen Leadership Program (BHLP), will host the eighth annual MLK Day of Service to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, in consideration of the University’s Winter Session, when fewer students are on campus, UD observes this day of service in February so that all UD students have the opportunity to serve together in honor of Dr. King.

Below is a roundup of some service opportunities scheduled in the community Saturday through Monday, Jan. 19-21:

Saturday, Jan. 19

  • Hope Dining Room, a community supported soup kitchen, is hosting a clean-up from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Kingswood United Methodist Church located at 300 Marrows Rd. in Newark. Volunteers will help with the annual thorough cleaning of the church’s kitchen — where the group cooks food for those in need.
  • The Trap Pond State Park, located at 33587 Baldcypress Lane, Laurel, will have a trash clean-up from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers will meet in front of the Baldcypress Nature Center and are asked to wear closed-toed shoes. For more information visit the Delaware State Parks website.

Sunday, Jan. 20

  • St. John A.M. Church, 77 New London Rd., Newark, will host a community worship service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at 3 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 21

  • The One Village Alliance and the Brandywine School District will host an MLK Day of Service as part of the Raising Kings program at the Delaware Art Museum from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program, which is committed to changing the image and expectations of African American males within the community, has several other events planned during the month. For more information visit the website.

  • The Newark branch of the NAACP, the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow and the Newark MLK Weekend Celebration Committee will present readings from Letter from Birmingham Jail from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Newark United Methodist Church, 69 East Main St., Newark. Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written by King while he sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, after he was arrested during a protest.

  • The New Castle County Department of Community Services will host a book drive at 77 Read’s Way, New Castle. Volunteers can help sort and create packets of donated books from 10 a.m. to noon.

  • Auburn Valley State Park will have an invasive plant removal project from 9:30-11 a.m., at 3000 Creek Rd., Hockessin. Volunteers will meet at the Yorklyn Bridge Trail parking lot and are encouraged to bring gloves and a trowel. For more information, go to the Delaware State Parks website.

  • Delaware State Parks is also hosting a litter clean-up along Alapocas Run, at 1914 W. Park Drive, Wilmington. Volunteers will meet at the Greenway trail. Find more information on the Delaware State Parks website.  

  • The Delaware division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will offer guided tours at two museums in Dover in honor of MLK Day. Both museums are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The first is located at the Old State House (25 The Green, Dover) and the second at the Johnson Victrola Museum (375 South New St., Dover). Contact the museums directly for more information.

  • Laurel Public Library’s Teen Ambassadors will host a trash clean-up. The event is opened to volunteers, ages 13 to 18. Volunteers are asked to meet at 9:45 a.m. at the library (101 East Fourth St., Laurel) to get supplies and directions. The event will run from 10 a.m. to noon and lunch will be served after.

Other opportunities

  • Springer Middle School in Wilmington is observing a day of peace and participating in a 3K walk with students. The school is asking for donations of nonperishable food, gently used or new clothing and children’s books.

  • Read Aloud Delaware is always looking for volunteers to read to children. The organization is especially looking for volunteers to fill the 9-11 a.m. slot and the 1-3 p.m. slot. Volunteers can contact Mary Hirschbiel for New Castle County (302-656-5256), Mary Randall for Kent County (302-674-4423) and Stacy Penaranda for Sussex County (302-856-2527).

  • The State Office of Volunteerism is accepting donations to support the Milford Central Academy Uniform Closet. Officials are specifically looking for button collared solid color polo shirts in maroon, black, gold, yellow, navy, white or gray sizes children XL to adult XL. They are also looking for solid color khaki style pants in black, white, navy, tan or gray in any size. Donations can be brought to the Williams State Service Center (805 River Rd., Dover).

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