Impact of Martin Luther King Jr. Remains Strong

Article excerpt

Black protesters pinned against buildings by blasts of water from fire hoses, cringing in the face of menacing police dogs.

Martin Luther King Jr. marching arm in arm with protesters around the country, delivering some of the most moving speeches of our time.

These powerful black-and-white images burned in our minds elicit memories of those turbulent times, now more than 30 years into our nation's past, when people struggled to gain the equal rights afforded all American citizens in the U.S. Constitution.

As the nation today honors what would have been King's 70th birthday, we present recollections from six Lake County residents who were active in the civil rights movement - from marching with King, to staging sit-ins and organizing against civil rights injustices.

Selma to Montgomery

E. Carole Johnson of Libertyville was working to improve race relations in Chicago and the North Shore before Martin Luther King Jr. came on the scene.

"I saw much of it long before Martin Luther King," she said.

As the child of a black minister in South Carolina, she saw Ku Klux Klan rallies. As a pharmacy student at Xavier University in Louisiana, she only drank from the water fountains marked "For Coloreds."

When King showed up in Chicago, she and others in the Catholic Interracial Council welcomed him with open arms many times.

"He was so soft-spoken and moving," said Johnson, then a resident of Evanston who met many times with King, worked to get blacks registered to vote and marched with groups led by King throughout the country. She recalled marching in Georgia and marching with Caesar Chavez and the grape pickers.

However, her most memorable experience about the civil rights movement was the march in Alabama, from Selma to Montgomery.

Her eyes lighting up, Johnson said, "Seeing that bridge and seeing all those people come together from all ethnicities ... "

Johnson said she was one of many who gave of their time and in some cases sacrificed their lives to bring civil rights to African Americans.

"It was very frightening," she said, adding that those marching really did not know if they were going to live through the experience.

"In spite of all the inhumanities we've been subject to, it hasn't made us bitter. We want to move ahead," she said.

As a college freshman, Johnson dated a man who was then a coach at Fort Sam Houston, but moved on and opened doors for blacks. The man was baseball great Jackie Robinson.

"He did as much toward race relations," said Johnson, who graduated from college at age 19 and went on to become the first African-American to work at the Veterans Administration Hospital in North Chicago.

Retiring from there as director of pharmacy, she can look back and see that most of her life has been about improving human relations.

- C.L. Waller

Staged 1-person sit-in

As a young woman growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950s, Eleanor Murkey, the associate dean of the College of Lake County, poured herself into the boycotts and protests that precipitated the civil rights movement.

"A friend used to say about me, if you have a cause, I will march. I will get involved," Murkey said with a smile.

A longtime Waukegan resident, Murkey recalls boycotting Woolworth's in Philadelphia in solidarity with the blacks in the South who were banned from sitting at the drugstore's lunch counter.

While visiting Anniston, Ala., with the youth arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she staged a one-person sit-in in a diner that refused to serve blacks.

She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. four times, including the 1964 march in Marquette Park and the 1967 anti-war march on State Street.

Marching with King was "one of the most electrifying experiences," she said. "It always was, whether you were at the tail end or right there with him. …