Civil rights activist reflects on the past on MLK Day

A lifetime member of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP reflects on the past as a civil rights worker in the 1960s. She shares her experience as a young college student participating in non-violent actions in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Posted: Jan 15, 2018 8:04 AM
Updated: Jan 15, 2018 1:04 PM

EUGENE, Ore. – This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on King’s actual birthday, Jan. 15. If alive today, the civil rights icon would have been 89-years-old. A Eugene-Springfield NAACP lifetime member shares her memories of early civil rights work from the 1960’s.

Antonia Lewis grew up in Washington, D.C. where she began her journey working in civil rights in the early 1960’s. She was indirectly involved in the NAACP in Washington, while she participated as a college student in nonviolent actions in Maryland and Virginia. Lewis participated in sit-in protests at various lunch counters, drug stores, and movie theaters that were for "white people only."

Events:

The cities of Eugene and Springfield are honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. by marching as a community on Monday.

In Eugene, the “Standing United” march begins at 10 a.m. Participants will start gathering at the University of Oregon’s PK Park at 9 a.m.

In Springfield, the 20th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. march and celebration starts at 1 p.m. at the Springfield Justice Center.

“We were inspired by the first sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina in February of 1960 when some young black university students decided they were tired of not being able to sit down at the drug store lunch counter,” Lewis said. “They were tired of it and decided they weren’t going to leave and that was the beginning of the sit-in movement.”

Lewis said she thought in recent years racism was nearly over, but 2017 brought back memories from the past.

"People of all races and colors and so forth were advancing into various positions of importance and getting elected to offices and it really looked like things were going well,” Lewis said. “Then recently, we've had this backlash. We have to be more aware of everyone around us, and not just look only through our eyes."

NAACP educator Anetra Brown said she focuses on educating children to grow up knowing they’re valuable, no matter the color of their skin. She said she hopes MLK Day will remind people to get involved in fighting racial and social injustice.

“Whatever you’re doing now is what would have done then,” Brown said. “So I’ve been thinking about that the last few days and just the role I can play as a young black woman in Eugene. It’s exciting to me because it’s an opportunity to do my part and make this community safe for everyone.”

President Donald Trump is encouraging Americans to observe the federal holiday by doing “acts of civic work and community service.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in 1929 and was killed in April 1968. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Former president Ronald Reagan signed MLK Day into law in 1983. The first national MLK Day was observed three years later in 1986.

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