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A Special Supplement of The Progress-Index February 2013

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Martin Ma Mart rtinn LLu Inside: MLK Had Special Connection with Petersburg Former Bus Station Transforming into Civil Rights Museum? Facts & Figures to Celebrate Black History The History of Black History Month


King’s Visit to the Region: October 1956 - King was invited to speak at the 21st Annual Convention of the Virginia State NAACP. At Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, King addressed an audience so big, that many listeners had to assemble in other churches, to which the sound of King’s speech was broadcast. March 1957 - King makes his first appearance at Virginia State College. He spoke at a forum at Foster Hall and attended a banquet at Jones Hall. Very little else is known of this visit. 1959 - King spoke at a mass meeting at First Baptist Church in Petersburg. The church has no records of it. But the church’s pastor, the Rev. Milton A. Reid, remembers the visit, because it was the first time he met King.

marched through Colonial Heights. Later that day, King made his second appearance at Virginia State College. On the third day of the visit, King came to Hopewell for the first and only tim. His friend, the Rev. Curtis Harris, was to be tried at Hopewell Circuit Court for a contempt charge that had grown out of his refusal to answer questions to a legislative committee. July 1965 - When King spoke at Roger’s Stadium on campus of Virginia State College, he shocked many in his movement. The previous year, he had received the Nobel Peace Prize, and now he openly attacked U.S. policy in Vietnam for the first time. “We aren’t going to defeat Communism with guns, bombs and gases, but rather by making democracy work and showing it to the world,” King said.

July 1960 - King came to Petersburg to recruit members for his executive staff. King announced at Gillfield Baptist Church that the pastor, the Rev.Wyatt T. Walker, would follow him to Atlanta. Dorothy Cotton came June 1967 - King came by invitation of the Hopewell Improvement along as well, leaving behind her husband. She would eventually join King Foundation, which was hosting a testimonial banquet to honor its founder, on his trip to Oslo, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize. the Rev. Curtis Harris, for his “outstanding work for the civil rights movement,” according to a press release. King, in a 45-minute speech at Jones March 1962 - King decided to come to Petersburg for three days to encourage people to vote. King knocked on doors in the Blandford neigh- Hall at Virginia State College, spoke against the war in Vietnam and the struggles at home. He addressed racial injustice, “which is still the black borhood. The next day King and his entourage traveled to Dinwiddie, man’s burden and America’s shame. Prince George and Chesterfield counties. King and his delegation also

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Celebrating Black History


MLK, Petersburg Had A Special Connection

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is as much part of Petersburg as any other historical figure. King had a bond with Petersburg that spanned his most active days as a civil rights leader. He visited Petersburg at least seven times – both as a relatively unknown minister and as a Nobel Peace Prize winning international figure. King’s bond was strong with Petersburg, where he recruited much of his top staff. Some of King’s lieutenants say the national model for the Civil Rights move,ment was taken from the Petersburg example.“I feel very strongly that Petersburg played an important role in the national struggle,” said the Rev. Milton A. Reid, former pastor at First Baptist Church and a key player of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King spoke at local black churches, ate and slept in the homes of local civil rights activists, and knocked on the doors of citizens in Blandford neighborhood, urging them to vote. He addressed crowds at Virginia State College (now Virginia State University), where he delivered one of his key speeches against war in Vietnam. King visited Dinwiddie County, Prince George County, Chesterfield County, marched through Colonial Heights and ate breakfast in a Hopewell snack bar. King took locals with him to Atlanta and around the world so they would apply what they had accomplished in Petersburg on a bigger level. The Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, pastor at Gillfield Baptist Church in Peters-

COURTESY PHOTO

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Petersburg area on at least seven occasions. This 1962 photo shows Herbert Coulton, chairman of the Petersburg branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, standing with King.

burg throughout the 1950s, became King’s chief of staff and executive director of the SCLC. “The fact that Dr. King selected me to lead the SCLC is proof that Petersburg played a big role in the civil rights movement,” Walker said. “The SCLC used the local model of the movement that we had in Petersburg and applied it to the entire South. That was a critical strategy.” King is an integral part of Petersburg. The bridge that spans the Appomattox River and connects the city with Colonial Heights, bears King’s name. And Petersburg was the first city in Virginia to designate a holiday for King. Yet few today can trace Kings footsteps in Petersburg — where he spoke, what he preached and where

was much more than just a frequent stop on his many travels through the country. In fact, King was so impressed with the success and efficiency of the local civil rights movement, that he recruited its key members for his personal staff. He took them with him to Atlanta and around the world so they would apply what they had accomplished in Petersburg on a much bigger level. The Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, pastor at Gillfield Baptist Church throughout the 1950s, went to become King’s chief of staff and executive director of the SCLC. “The fact that Dr. King selected me to lead the SCLC is proof that Petersburg played a big role in the civil rights movement,” Walker said. “The SCLC used the local model of the movement that we had in Petersburg and applied it to the entire South. That was a critical strategy.”

he laid his head to rest at night. Even those who were with King during those days have little left but a few fading memories of brief moments they shared with King in the city. It almost seems like Martin Luther King Jr. felt very much at home in the Tri-Cities, and his path on those visits COURTESY PHOTO would always The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at Mt. Olivet Baptist lead back to Church in Petersburg in this Oct. , 1956, photo from the collection Petersburg. of the Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker and Theresa Walker. To the left of But the city the lectern is Dorothy Cotton. Celebrating Black History

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Former Bus Station Transforming into a Civil Rights Museum? From staff reports

A community group and others are spearheading an effort to turn a building that was once the scene of racial injustice into a museum that celebrates the civil rights movement in Petersburg. The city of Petersburg is in serious discussions with Petersburg Communities Inc. and others to transform the former Trailways Bus Station into a civil rights museum. The group has collected thousands of signatures so far and is hoping to enter into a public-private partnership with the city to establish the museum in the former bus station. The city’s transit department owns the station but will need to transfer

ownership of the building to the city, something that the federal government will have to approve. So far, the group has collected thousands of signatures in support of the concept, did a walk-through of the building in July and held several marches in support of the plan since June. Petersburg Mayor Brian Moore has voiced his support for the project. Moore described the project as a fantastic one for the city and said that the station was in fantastic shape during a walk through of the building in July. He said that the Transit Authority, which owns the building is in talks with the Federal Transit Authority to transfer

A Lesson in African American History

the building to the city. “Once that happens, we can do a public private partnership.” He said it will be key to bring the building back to life. Moore thinks the museum will be one more attraction that could bring visitors to Petersburg. Richard Stewart, owner of the Richard Stewart-Pocahontas Museum, said he too thinks the museum will be a benefit for the city. The building at the corner of Washington and Adams streets was constructed in 1946 and was designed for the era of segregation. There are two sets of restrooms in the facility, on opposite ends of the building. The main entrances on Washington Street were reserved

for whites, according to Carl Winfield, who participated in the civil rights movement. “Blacks weren’t allowed in the station except to use the restroom or to eat at the lunch counter,” Winfield said. There is lunch counter for African-Americans. On the other side of the station was a lunch area for whites — larger with enough room for a couple of booths and stools. In August 1960, the bus station was desegregated through the work of the Petersburg Improvement Association with the leadership of the Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, according to the book “Freedom Riders 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice” by Raymond Arsenault. Arsenault’s

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book tells how the Petersburg Improvement Association led a series of sitins that eventually led to the president of Bus Terminal Restaurants agreeing to desegregate lunch counters here and in several other cities. “There are few architectural structures that have this significance,” Moore said. He added that the building should serve as a monument to those that sacrificed much — some even their lives —

to make things right. Mary Howard, president of Petersburg Communities Inc., said that preserving the building is key to helping youth of the city and from elsewhere understand the importance of the history. “We’re asking that the building be preserved,” Howard said.

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Facts & Figures to Celebrate Black History Black History Month is celebrated annually in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Americans and Canadians celebrate Black History Month in February, while the U.K. devotes the month of September to recognizing and celebrating black history. Over the course of history, blacks have made tremendous contributions that have impacted all aspects of society. The following facts and figures recognize some of the more notable persons and some lesser known tidbits to celebrate this Black History Month. * The banjo originated in Africa. Until the 1800s, this popular and unique instrument was considered played exclusively by blacks. * C.B. Brooks invented the first street sweeper, a truck equipped with brooms, in 1896. * Frederick Jones invented a portable air conditioner that proved especially valuable in World War II, during which it was used to preserve medicine and blood serum. * Computer scientist Mark Dean, born in 1957, led a team that developed the ISA bus, which allows the use of computer plug-ins, including speakers, scanners and disk drives, among other things. * Lonnie G. Johnson, an engineer whose work has included spacecraft system design for NASA, invented the Super Soaker water gun, a toy that was immensely popular in the early 1990s. * Arguably one of the greatest Olympian the world has ever seen, American Jesse Owens became T6

Celebrating Black History

the first athlete to win four gold medals in one Olympiad at the 1936 games in Berlin. * Following in Owens’ footsteps, Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to win three gold medals in the 1960 Olympic Games. The 20th of 22 children, Rudolph broke three world records. * Started in 1787, the African Free School in New York City was the first free school for African-Americans. * Booker T. Washington was the first African-American to be honored on a United States stamp. * When her autobiographical work “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” made the bestseller list, Maya Angelou became the first African-American woman to author a non-fiction bestseller. * In 1987, neurosurgeon Ben Carson led the first successful operation to separate a pair of Siamese twins who were joined at the back of the head. * In 1975, Lee Elder became the first AfricanAmerican golfer to play in the Masters Tournament. Twenty-two years later, Tiger Woods would become the first African-American to win the prestigious tournament. * The American Community Survey reported in 2005 that there were 2.4 million black military veterans in the United States, the highest of any minority group. * Thomas Andrew Dorsey is considered the father of gospel music. His “Take My Hand Precious Lord” was recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley and Mahalia Jackson.

Harriet Tubman

1820-1913 Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland in 1820, one of eleven children. She married John Tubman, a free black man. When she wanted to escape from slavery he did not want to go, so she went alone in 1849. She heard about a group of people who helped runaway slaves. The network of people who helped her was known as “The Underground Railroad,” and she became legendary for helping about 300 others to freedom through that network. She risked great danger and even death in order to help other slaves run away to the North. She was so clever in her methods that the slave catchers could never grab her even though they would have earned incredible rewards. She was able to help her parents and all but two of her brothers and sisters to escape to freedom. She traveled at night, dressed as a man so she wouldn’t attract attention. When she got near a plantation she would sing a song the slaves knew to let them know she was there. Then they would travel, guided by the North Star, and when they reached freedom in the North she took them to homes where they could eat and rest safely. She was known as Moses. Just like the Moses in the Bible, she led people to freedom. This incredible woman even fought for the Union Army during the Civil War, leading a troop of three hundred black soldiers into battle and serving as a spy for Union soldiers. Later she served as a nurse and eventually remarried. She made speeches telling people about her life. Harriet Tubman lived into her nineties. The people in her town of Auburn, N.Y. put up a plaque in her honor. It read, “On my Underground Railroad I never ran my train off the track. And I never lost a passenger.”


The History of Black History Month Many Americans and Canadians know each February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to observing the history of the African diaspora is several countries outside Africa. The month is meant to educate people about the culture of those, including African-Americans, who left Africa and celebrate their various achievements in all walks of life. The origins of Black History Month can be traced to Harvardtrained historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland. Woodson and Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, or ASNLH. This organization dedicated itself to researching

and promoting the achievements of black Americans and others of African descent. In 1926, the ASNLH sponsored a national Negro History Week and chose the second week of February for the celebration for a very specific reason. The week coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States who presided over the end of slavery, and Frederick Douglass, the famed former slave who rose to prominence as a social reformer, writer, orator, and statesman. Negro History Week proved inspiring to communities across the country, who organized local celebrations and established historical

clubs to study the history of black Americans while educating others as well. Negro History Week proved so popular that, by the late 1960s, it had evolved into Black History Week. Many credit the Civil Rights Movement for the change, which initially took place on college campuses. In 1976, President Gerald Ford called upon the public to honor the history and accomplishments of black Americans when he officially recognized February as Black History Month.

Since Ford’s official recognition more than 35 years ago, each of his successors has designated February as Black History Month. In less than 100 years, Woodson and Moorland went from honoring the history of black Americans to joining the growing list of honorees who are celebrated every February.

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