Leahy speaks about importance of civil rights for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Posted Thursday, January 20, 2005 - 12:00am

"Dr. Martin Luther King was a true American patriot." This was the point of Dr. Todd Leahy's speech on January 14, "His cause was freedom."

Leahy, a CEU history instructor gave a speech on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as part of ASCEU's multi-cultural program. The event, entitled Freedom Speaks, brought over 50 CEU students out, even over the long weekend.

Originally from Pennsylvania, he received his bachelor's degree from the Pennsylvania State University. He earned his master's degree from Fort Hays State University in Kansas and Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University.

Leahy's speech began by enforcing the idea that the civil rights movement is not a dead and gone entity, that it is still a big issue today, or that it at least should be. He gave a detailed report of the history of civil rights focusing mainly on Dr. King.

He tells the story of hate crimes committed before the words hate crime had meaning; stories of hate crimes unpunished for over 40 years.

"The civil rights movement of the 1960s contained ideas by no means foreign to the American people." Leahy said, stating that the movement was based on the ideas of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal."

Leahy gave a detailed history of the life and career of King, focusing on the fact that freedom lay at the heart of all his ideas. "When he got up to speak, he galvanized the crowd and the nation," he said pointing out that King used his greatest tool, speech, to mobilize the nation.

The theme of the night being that King was a true patriot, Leahy pointed out that, "Not once did this man stand up and denounce this country or its constitution. Those were the tactics of the enemy ... He only asked that the nation no longer wallow in despair. King was not leading a black revolution; he was leading a call for freedom no different than Washington, Adams and Jefferson before him."

Leahy gave an account of King's assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was shot on the balcony of his hotel and died not an hour later. He was ironically taken to the same hospital room where James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi, was taken when he was shot during a civil rights rally two years earlier.

It was not until 15 years later that a holiday was created. In 1983 after countless petitions and bills in Congress, a holiday was created with the backing of President Ronald Regan. "It was the first American national holiday celebrating a black person, the first celebrating the idea that all men are created equal. A holiday celebrating not just Dr, King, but all that he stood for." According to Leahy, the holiday was created because, despite all the opposition they faced, "some people simply refused to forget."

Leahy asked that on that day people think of more than just another day off work or school, more than a day when businesses are closed, that we think of it as a day to think of what makes America great.

"Dr. King made great leaps in the civil rights movement, but still today we are not truly equal. It is only when freedom rings from every mountainside, not just the Rockies and the Appalachians, when freedom rings from the Great Smokey Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, from the Ozarks, from every molehill and hole in Mississippi and the Louisiana swamps, only then will white and black, Jew and gentile Catholic and Protestant sing together the words of the old Negro spiritual 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we're free at last.'"

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