By Denise Dick
Schools, streets, bridges and libraries bear his name, and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation in 1983 creating a national holiday for him.
But more than 45 years after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — pastor, activist and civil rights leader — young people believe his legacy is about much more than infrastructure or a long weekend.
A group of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders at East High School spoke last week about Dr. King, his accomplishments, his legacy and the effects he’s had on their lives.
“He made me feel like a better African- American,” said Ke’Myah Culver, 14, a ninth-grader.
Blacks and whites go to school together, eat at the same restaurants and drink from the same water fountains — all things she attributes to the work of Dr. King.
Ninth-grader Christal Cuevas, 14, said part of Dr. King’s legacy is that students of different races attend the same schools.
During segregation, “white people thought we were dirty because of our skin,” said seventh-grader Devonna Culver, 13.
The country wouldn’t be the same if Dr. King hadn’t played his role in history, the students said.
“I think segregation would still be here,” said Alaysha Clarett, 13, ninth-grader.
Dr. King’s fight for freedom left lasting effects on the country with his “I Have a Dream” speech, she said.
“I feel discrimination would have lasted longer,” said Billy McGeorge, 14, a ninth-grader.
Because of others involved in the civil rights movement and their work, though, Billy said, it would have ended eventually.
One of the reasons Dr. King played such a critical role is that he died in the civil-rights fight, he said.
“He kept a lot of people from getting into trouble,” said Monroe Grayson, 15, who is in eighth grade.
While some people wanted to respond to the violence to which they were subjected with more violence, Dr. King advocated peace, Monroe said.
That proved more effective, said ninth-grader Rayvon Parker, 15, because violence in response to violence wouldn’t have accomplished anything.
“It would have given them reason to be hostile back,” McGeorge added. “He showed them peace.”
Dr. King demonstrated leadership, the students said.
“People believed in him,” Grayson said. “People liked him personally.”
Grayson’s grandmother, who lives in Chicago, grew up in the South and knew members of the King family.
Ninth-grader Chrjiia Hill, 14, first learned about Dr. King from her mother.
“She told me that he fought for civil rights and he won the Nobel Peace Prize,” she said.
McGeorge’s mother first started talking to him about the late civil-rights leader’s accomplishments when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“She told me about who he was and what he did,” McGeorge said.
Monroe’s grandmother told him about the famous man.
“She talked about him a lot,” Monroe said. “She said he was a nice man, a leader.”