William & Mary

Hundreds turn out for MLK events at W&M

  • Remembering MLK
    Remembering MLK  About 40 students gathered in the Great Hall of the Wren Building for a Martin Luther King event that featured students reading poems and quotes.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Candlelight remembrance
    Candlelight remembrance  Students gather outside of the Wren Building before a candlelight march in remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr., on Jan. 20.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Lifting their voices
    Lifting their voices  Ebony Expressions Gospel Choir led the march, singing "This Little Light of Mine."  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Lights across campus
    Lights across campus  The students who participated in the march walked from the Wren Building to the Sadler Center.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Keynote speaker
    Keynote speaker  The Commonwealth Auditorium was filled with people who came to hear Michael Eric Dyson speak at the annual Martin Luther King commemoration.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Michael Eric Dyson
    Michael Eric Dyson  As keynote speaker at the event, Dyson focused on the tradition, transformation, and triumph of Martin Luther King.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Answering questions
    Answering questions  Dyson took questions from the audience following his speech, including one from the young man pictured here, who asked about African-American history being taught in schools.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
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Hundreds of people gathered at William & Mary on Jan. 20 to remember and honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

About 40 William & Mary students gathered in the Wren Building at dusk for the William & Mary NAACP’s and Alpha Phi Alpha’s annual Martin Luther King remembrance program and candlelight march. A few hours later, the Commonwealth Auditorium was packed with about 460 people for the Center for Student Diversity’s Martin Luther King Commemoration Program, featuring professor, author and speaker Michael Eric Dyson.

The first event began in the Great Hall with about a dozen students reading poems and quotes from Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Marianne Williamson and more.

“As we take time out to listen to our fellow students, let us think about what Dr. King’s legacy means to you individually,” said Kim Green ’13, co-president of the NAACP with Brittney Calloway ’11.

Afterward, the students gathered in the Wren Courtyard and lit candles. Led by Ebony Expressions Gospel Choir, they sang and walked across the campus to the Sadler Center.


Freshman Ashley Pettway, of Woodbridge, Va., was among the students who joined in the event. She said she participated because she always supports Alpha Phi Alpha and the NAACP, but “mainly because this is my first big MLK celebration.”

“We didn’t do anything like this at my (high) school,” she said. “It’s cool to have this at the College.”

Pettway said she thought the event was great and was delighted when one student read her favorite poem, “Still I Rise.”

As she walked toward the Sadler Center, she said she was excited to also have the chance to see Dyson speak that same night.

“It’s cool because he’s so relevant in our culture,” she said.

Dyson, who was named by Ebony Magazine as one of the 100 most influential black Americans, is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University. He has written 16 books, including “April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America” and “I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Ashley Heilprin, a graduate law and public policy student and an assistant in the Center for Student Diversity, introduced Dyson to the full Commonwealth Auditorium Thursday night.

“Dr. Dyson bridges the gaps between generations, connecting civil rights identity to hip hop culture while forging links between older and younger Americans, especially black Americans,” she said. “As a cutting edge historian, he educates the general public on the significance of hip hop, not only in understanding black culture, but American culture as well. With a powerful voice, Dr. Dyson reaches beyond race, addressing the universal commonality of our American concern.”

Dyson focused his talk on the tradition, transformation, and triumph of Martin Luther King, Jr., calling King “arguably the greatest American who’s ever lived.”

“Martin Luther King was not a president like Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson and that I think is one of the great marks of his destiny -- that despite being a private citizen, he occupies such an esteemed place in the annuls of American democracy because he seized the authority from those who ostensibly and allegedly possessed it and put democracy to work for those who were most vulnerable and voiceless,” he said.

King “wrestled with the foundational trauma that marked the beginning and the origin of the American state,” Dyson said.

“He dealt with what has been interestingly and rightfully termed America’s original sin, and that is the issue of color and caste and race and slavery in America.”

Dyson said that, if he were alive today, King would challenge President Barack Obama on issues such as the poverty level, unemployment and his willingness to discuss race.

Noting that Obama has a different mission than King, Dyson said that the president “must not be held accountable to King’s standards, but he must be held account to the standards and traditions of transformation that made him possible, of which he is a sign of triumph.”

Dyson said that King remains a beacon of hope, an icon and an inspiration who embodies “the best of the traditions that when transformed can lead to our democratic triumph.”