Forty years ago, English professor John Glavin (C ’64) was driving on 14th Street in downtown D.C. when he got caught in a fray. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot.

“People were banging on our car, trying to overturn it,” he said. “I remember going on top of LXR and all around you could see flames. It was like we were in a war zone.”

Halfway across the country in Chicago, Rev. E. Terri LaVelle, a current chaplain-in-residence in LXR, was in class at Maria High School, where King had marched for fair housing only a year before his death.

“I felt extremely saddened and somewhat fearful,” LaVelle said about hearing the news of King’s assassination.

Today, on the 40th anniversary of King’s assassination, faculty and administrators who remember the day look back on it with solemnity, while students held a candlelight vigil last night to remember the civil rights leader.

“[His death] brought back the feeling of Kennedy’s assassination, and it was a form of anti-déjà vu: This couldn’t be happening to us a second time,” Glavin said. “[King] was a man who made you believe the promise of the Declaration of the Independence might one day be fulfilled.”

Though LaVelle had never met King, she has worked closely with some of his colleagues, such as Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), activist Dorothy Cotton and attorney Fred Gray.

LaVelle said she remembers King for “his boldness, his willingness to sacrifice, his courage to speak out and take risks and to speak truth to power.”

Fr. John Haughey, S.J., who now works in the Woodstock Theological Center, came to Georgetown in 1963 and began working with the Georgetown University Community Action Program, an initiative that oversaw 56 inner-city projects aimed to improve the lives of inner-city youth. He remembers being in the old Jesuit Residence when he first heard of King’s assassination.

The assassination, for Haughey, brought “tears.” Haughey paused for a while. “And I still have them.”

The day after the assassination, Haughey said, students who participated in GUCAP collected signatures from faculty, staff and students on poster boards to show Georgetown’s support for King. Haughey then led a march to Pennsylvania Avenue and presented the signatures to White House security officers.

“President [John F.] Kennedy and Dr. King’s words really awakened us to what we could do as a collective nation,” Haughey said.

Dennis Williams, director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, was a junior in high school when King was assassinated.

“Devastated . we were just shook up,” he said. “By the time of his death, he had taken on not just civil rights, but he had come out strongly against the war in Vietnam and was preparing a campaign of economic social justice . which we don’t remember him for anymore.”

For Williams, one striking significance of King’s work was how much he accomplished in his all too short life.

“The older I get, I am more and more amazed at how much he accomplished at such a young age,” Williams said.

But Haughey said that the Georgetown of today has not yet achieved the entirety of King’s vision.

“The present Georgetown has appropriated one part of the vision – the racial part – but not the inequality part. [People at Georgetown] are still sleepy about the inequities from which the poor [of all races] suffer,” Haughey said.

Still, the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. has lived on at Georgetown in the 40 years since his assassination. Last night, young and old met for a candlelight vigil in Red Square to sing and commemorate the eve of King’s assassination. Around 30 students and faculty, in an otherwise empty Red Square, sang “We Shall Overcome,”Amazing Grace” and “Take My Hands Precious Lord” (King’s favorite song, according to some at the vigil) in the cold and rainy night.

Willie Bodrick II (COL ’10) led “Amazing Grace” and spoke about King’s legacy here at Georgetown and throughout the country.

“As long as we keep King’s legacy and his dream at the forefront, we can cut down time on the journey to equality and peace,” he said.

President of the Georgetown University NAACP chapter Ellie Gunderson (COL ’10) led reflections on King’s life and the effects of his legacy on students’ lives here at Georgetown.

“I see people my age who didn’t live in King’s time still feel his message. On this day, especially, we must remember that the path has been made clear by people of King’s generation for us to continue our progress,” she said.

Brian Cook (COL ’10) was one of those among the crowd who held up his lit candle to honor King.

“I feel heavy because the mission is just as real, and though the challenges have changed, the human struggle for compassion is something we will always struggle for,” Cook said. “Every generation has to re-define and re-engage the struggle and people must love each other as we love our own.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.