‘Keep love in your hearts,’ speaker tells Plaza gathering
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
The words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech echoed throughout Ashland Plaza Monday afternoon, as attendees commemorated the slain civil rights leader’s life and legacy. Saturday would have been his 93rd birthday.
Dozens gathered for a masked, socially distanced version of the annual event to listen as the full 16-minute speech was shared, following remarks by speakers who marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama, and called for continued work toward ensuring civil rights are equitable for all.
“We are here today to celebrate the life and dream of a man who mobilized a people to change this country for the better,” said D.L. Richardson, a native of Selma, Alabama, who has emceed the annual Ashland event for 20 years.
Richardson grew up in Selma, Alabama, and now serves as equity specialist for both the Medford School District and Black Southern Oregon Alliance.
Attendees also heard from Dr. Geneva Craig, who marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama.
“I am so happy and so proud to see so many of you come here to celebrate a man who made a very big difference in my life,” Craig, a Medford resident, told attendees. “I tell people, Dr. King saved my life because I was a teenager full of anger, full of hatred for any person who was white.”
Craig spoke of finding strength by showing love to those who beat her on March 7, 1965, known as “Bloody Sunday,” as well as while being tortured by police in jail cells.
In response to oppression, she would sing, “‘I love everybody.”
While this kind of love didn’t come naturally to her, she found that hatred only ate away at her. Dr. King showed her and others that giving and showing love was the only way to respond to violent injustice.
“I learned the lessons from Dr. King about love — loving your fellow man, and taking that anger and turning it away because it eats away at you,” Craig said. “Give love, show love.
“Keep love in your hearts, everybody,” she added.
Also speaking was Leda Shapiro of Ashland, who talked about her experiences marching in the Civil Rights movement in August 1963. She was there for the “I have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., and also at a 1959 march along with 26,000 students.
Prior to singing “We Shall Overcome” as a group, Richardson made a call to action to those in attendance as they left.
“This is your wake up call, from here on out, we will do work. We will make this place better,” Richardson said. “We will be better people and we will do better each and every day of our lives. That’s what this is about.”
Ashland has celebrated King’s birthday since 1988. The federal holiday was established in 1986.
Email Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 19 update: Information added about another speaker, Leda Shapiro.