North Central College - Naperville, IL

Speakers Recount Memories, Passion for Civil Rights Era

Dr. Cornel West, a Princeton University professor, author and lifelong champion for racial justice, was the College’s keynote speaker for Martin Luther King Week. Speaking from the same stage and lectern in Pfeiffer Hall as King did some 50 years before, West challenged the capacity crowd to have the courage to evaluate themselves—their character, prejudices, concern for the poor—using King as their example. “King was motivated by love,” said West, “and it’s what made King so exemplary, what changed the course of the country and what ultimately claimed his life.” In addition to his captivating one and a half-hour lecture, West took questions from the audience and met with students before and after the event.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s visit to campus in 1960, alumni and others shared their thoughts from their personal contact with King and their trip to Selma, AL, in 1965 to march with him.

Rev. George St. Angelo ’43, campus chaplain at the time, drove King from his hotel in Chicago and to campus. “He wanted to know all about North Central and I told him about our commitment to service and justice. He replied, ‘Do you think my kids could qualify to go there?’ When we went to Selma (in 1965), I spoke with him for two to three minutes. He was a different guy, not the guy who was here.”

Rev. Robert Harman ’59 is a retired executive of Global Ministries for the United Methodist Church. “I was not on campus at the time of his visit but I am proud of my campus for inviting him.” Later, Harman was serving an inner-city Chicago congregation and witnessed King’s attempts to improve open housing laws. “We practiced civil disobedience and I found myself in jail for the night. We sang freedom songs again and again. … I saw Dr. King in many lights, he was a strong person, always speaking of nonviolence, always at the front of the march.”

Rev. Dr. Kwame John Porter, retired United Methodist pastor, activist, father of Jessica Porter Houston ’90, and a co-founder of Operation PUSH, was a leader in many of King’s efforts in Chicago. “I remember a rally in 1964 in the Englewood neighborhood that drew 10,000 people. He had that kind of draw.”

Rev. Thomas Reinhart-Marean ’67 is a United Methodist pastor in Newport Beach, CA. He spoke passionately about the Selma trip. “I was told I’d be exiled by my family if I proceeded on the bus to Selma.” Once there, Reinhart-Marean recalls the aura surrounding King. “His presence transformed fear and confusion into focus and determination. He had a commanding presence as God’s prophet in our time … We experienced taunting and the hate of white people along the way. I didn’t know that kind of racial bigotry existed … That experience changed my life and I’m doing my best to keep walking the path I put my feet on in Selma in 1965.”

Dr. Doward Douwsma ’61, a retired professor of business management, was editor of the Chronicle in 1960-1961 when King visited. He publicized King’s upcoming speech titled “Strides Toward Freedom.” “How did (King’s visit) resonate with students at North Central? Not very loudly.” Douwsma and others had lunch with King. “I was two people away from him and I’ve thought about that a thousand times in the last 50 years. But I missed the opportunity to cover the story—I was too busy at the time. Opportunities don’t always crash through the door, they come quietly and you take them wherever they take you.”

Katheryn Agne ’60 Dutenhaver, Esq. is a law professor at DePaul University and was an adult chaperone on the Selma trip. “Dr. King’s message resonated with me.” She told the audience that her brother, Rev. Joe Agne ’66, was unable to participate in the trip because their parents wouldn’t give permission. She concluded by thanking St. Angelo for her North Central experiences. “Now that I have the opportunity—it’s 50 years late—I want to thank you for all you’ve done for me.”

North Central NOW Winter 2010

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