About 300 people gathered at the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center on the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday (Jan. 16).
"What we wanted to do was to provide an event that would help to bridge the UA Fort Smith campus community with the greater Fort Smith community and also to somewhat fill in the gap that has been left by the morning breakfast that (former Fort Smith) Mayor (Ray) Baker used to put on for the community down at the convention center," said Dr. Leroy Cox of the MLK Committee, and associate professor and Department Head of the Bachelor of Applied Science program
The morning began at 7:30 with a buffet breakfast in the Reynolds Room. Cox welcomed guests from the community who came to take part in the free event. An invocation was led by the Rev. Gary Hinkle before UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran spoke. Karen James, chairman of the MLK Committee, followed with her thoughts on Dr. King's accomplishments, the civil rights movement and the legacy that continues to present day. Tonya Nkokheli concluded the breakfast with an a cappella performance of "Greatest Love of All."
The education portion of the event followed with four speakers presenting programs throughout the campus center on a staggered schedule over a 1-hour period.
Dr. Bob Willoughby, associate professor of history and History Department head, showed a film of a 1967 interview where Dr. King spoke on his philosophy on conformity.
Dr. Mike Crane, associate professor of history, also presented a film covering the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Euba Winton spoke about the freedom riders, most memorably Rosa Parks, who refused to sit in the back of a bus. Other members of the MLK Committee portrayed bus passengers and sat in chairs behind a table lying on its side which represented a bus.
Tom Wing, associate professor of history and director of the Drennen-Scott House, presented At the Table of Brotherhood. He relayed a story of a fifth generation descendant of John Drennen, a slave owner, named Caroline Bercher and a descendant of one of Drennen's slaves, Angela Walton Raji, who met on the steps of the Drennen-Scott House in 2005 when UAFS received a grant to purchase the house.
The program concluded with a symbolic march from the campus center down North 49th Street to Kinkead Avenue and across the Campus Green to the final destination at the Bell Tower. Northside High School Junior ROTC members lead the march and a drum line from UAFS provided the cadence. At the Bell Tower, the crowd sang "We Shall Overcome" accompanied by bell music. Tonya Nkokheli performed another solo and Beran spoke about the university's involvement with the Black community.