Let us not forget grass roots civil rights leaders

As the world remembered the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Dream” speech Wednesday, we feel it is important to not only remember the event but all that has occurred to transition this nation from where we were in the early 1960s to where we are today.

As the recent Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman drama showed, race is still a volatile topic in modern-day America. But that is not to say tremendous strides haven’t been made either.

While citizens the world over recited the “Dream” speech and reflected on Dr. King’s many accomplishments Wednesday, we feel it is vital to remember that while King is regarded as the most significant individual in America’s civil rights struggle, he wasn’t the only one. Names like Ralph Abernathy, Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson and Myrlie Evers-Williams among many others are often mentioned in combination with King, and rightly so.

However, any movement is only as effective as it is active on the grass-roots level. As Stephen Anderson pointed out in his page 1A article in Wednesday’s Daily Mining Gazette, three Copper Country residents not only had front row seats to the birth of the civil rights movement in America, they each played significant roles right here in the Copper Country.

Betty Chavis and Drs. Willie and Gloria Melton took the lessons they learned in the early days of the movement, and, tempered with their personal experiences, were able to influence generations of Michigan Technological University students, faculty and staff of all races and backgrounds.

Willie, through his role in the classroom and Gloria and Betty as pioneering African-American administrators at Tech, passed down the message of tolerance, perseverance and hope that emanated from those early rallies of 1963 and beyond.

One can only imagine how many lives these three wonderful individuals have affected. Students who in turn passed the torch through lives they themselves have touched.

As we reflect on the events on Aug. 28, 1963, let us not forget that through the work of Chavis, the Meltons and many others, the Dream is indeed alive and well in the Keweenaw.