This year, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration will be a televised recognition of the Little Rock crisis by a Michigan-based commission.
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan’s celebration will feature four of the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, who volunteered in 1957 to desegregate one of the nation’s largest all-white high schools.
The Supreme Court’s ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. To support the new decision, nine black students attended Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.
The hostility they faced from white crowds and the Arkansas National Guard, requested by Gov. Orval Faubus, led President Dwight D. Eisenhower to request members of the army to escort the students into school. The discrimination also brought more attention to the civil rights movement.
“They made it possible for me as a Black girl to go to any school that I want, and they made that sacrifice as teenagers,” Chairperson of the MLK Mid-Michigan commission Elaine Hardy said.
The former Little Rock Central High School students who will appear in the program by the commission are Ernest Green, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Terrance Roberts and Minnijean Brown Trickey. Green and LaNier are former Michigan State University students.
The other five are Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas and Gloria Ray.
The Jan. 17 program also includes musical performances, messages from elected officials, recognition of winners of the commission’s student essay contest and an announcement of the commission’s annual sponsors.
“The commission is committed to transforming our community into the beloved community that we hear Dr. King speak about," Hardy said. "This is that community where justice is equal for everyone, and that we are a community at peace with itself. We have worked … to promote the legacy of Dr. King, his belief in equality and justice, his belief in fairness and equity, his belief in … every American having access and a voice in our democracy.”
The silver lining of the pandemic is that the broadcasted program can reach thousands of people, Hardy said.
The commission’s celebration will be broadcast on WILX and WLNS on Jan. 17 from 7 to 8 p.m. It will also be on the commission's website, YouTube Channel and rebroadcasted on Tuesday and Sunday.
“We can gather together around our common belief that we have a shared collective humanity and then we charge people to go out and do the greatest thing that we can do and that is to serve one another,” Hardy said.
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