Ashland MLK Day commemoration draws crowd to Ashland Plaza
By Art Van Kraft for Ashland.news
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated at the Ashland Plaza Monday afternoon before an enthusiastic crowd of about 60 people. An array of speakers, many of whom knew Dr. King, told their personal stories.
Bundled up against the brisk 40-degree weather, Dr. Geneva Craig, an administrator at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, told the crowd of her experience as a teenager in Selma, Alabama. She said her anger at the racial injustice she endured drove her to march with Dr. King and cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
“When I was growing up in Selma, Blacks had the menial tasks. You could do yardwork, or you could clean homes or cook in kitchens. There was no level of advancement going forward. When I was cleaning homes at $5 a day, I thought I was doing good. My first job in a hospital, at a dollar and 40 cents an hour, showed the limitations placed on people of color.”
Craig said King’s message gave her the incentive to fight back and gave rebellious Black youth focus, meaning and purpose.
“Dr. King taught us the way. He said, no matter what was done to me to discourage me from being a real nurse, I bowed my head, I smiled and continued to go around, to go under, to go over all those barriers that kept being thrown in my face. I had what Dr. King said, patience, persistence and determination.”
Craig said she sees more opportunities for Blacks now. She raised her son to find those opportunities and said he now has a job as an executive at Microsoft.
“The inequities of the past still haunt me. Separate public bathrooms for whites were squeaky clean while Blacks saw rusty sinks with the same room for men and women, but I have also seen the future with the patience, persistence and determination that changed my life.”
D.L Richardson is a civil rights scholar and member of BASE Southern Oregon (Black Alliance & Social Empowerment). He said he has seen changes in race relations since coming to the Ashland area in 2001. He said much of the success of race equality hinges on giving minorities a voice.
“We have made great progress,” he said. “Our efforts have been to create Black student unions, Latin, Asian American , Indigenous American student unions here in Ashland, but we still have work to do to in our community.”
Richardson said other areas in Southern Oregon are not as open to change in race relations. “The surrounding areas do present different challenges, regardless where you are in Southern Oregon, but at the same time there are people in those areas that want change. But don’t get me wrong: there are people throughout those areas that shy away from change, people that try to knock it out, but we’ve come too far to let that happen.”
Not all the speakers had suffered from racism. John Dolan was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who headed to the South in 1961 as a Freedom Rider. He told the crowd that he and hundreds like him were involved at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
“The Golden Age of the Civil Rights movement started in 1955 when Rosa Parks decided not to go to the back of the bus and ended when Jenny Macrae decided to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I was a one of the Freedom riders in 1961 so we were sort of in the middle of it,” Dolan said.
Dolan was a member of CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) and headed South, but got mixed reactions from his family.
“My friends in college supported me, but my father disinherited me and my mother was worried about me. My friends from high school were concerned I might become a communist,” he said.
Dolan was jailed in Louisiana and beaten by New Orleans police. Still, he said he never regretted his decision and that he was eventually forgiven by his family and friends. His father put him back in the will.
Art Van Kraft is an artist living in Ashland and a former broadcast journalist and news director of a Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate. Email him at email@example.com.