HAMPTON, Va. (October 1, 2018) –Community members, educators, historians, Hampton University staff, faculty and students came together for the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission’s Community Conversation, to discuss Dr. King’s influence on the fight for civil rights in Virginia and asking, as Dr. King did, “Where do we go from here?” This is the eighth Conversation in the series.
Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey, was on hand to open the conversation and welcome the guests to Hampton University. “You have come to our very historic campus at a very exciting time in our history. Last year, Hampton celebrated its 150th anniversary and my 40th service to this outstanding institution,” Dr. Harvey said. “Hampton clearly has a rich and deep history. One part of the history is the many noteworthy visitors to our campus, including ten United States Presidents, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass who mitigated that he had been all over the world, but now that he had seen Hampton, he has seen the world.”
Dr. Harvey went on to name a few other famous individuals who visited Hampton University, including Dr. King. “One of the most internationally recognized visits to Hampton was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke twice during the Civil Rights Movement, once in 1956 and once in 1962. It is only fitting that Hampton University hosts tonight’s King in Virginia Community Roundtable.”
The discussion was moderated by Senator Jennifer McClellan, who is also the Chair of the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission. “The King Commission was created in 1992 to help keep Dr. King’s legacy and his work alive through programming that examines the issues that he was working on, and how his work is still relevant in contemporary issues today,” McClellan said.
Panelists for the discussion included Gaylene Kaynoton, President, Hampton Branch NAACP; Carter Phillips, Hampton University Commission; Rev. Dr. Calvin Sydnor, III, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Aman Tune, political science student at Hampton University; Dr. Sharon Campbell Waters, member of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church during Dr. King’s tenure; and Robert Watson, assistant professor of History for Hampton University.
Robert Watson, Hampton University assistant professor of history, had the chance to shoot pool with Dr. King when he was attending college. “Tomorrow, the 27th of September, it would be 62 years ago that he came and spoke at the Memorial Chapel here at Hampton,” said Watson. “Dr. King was familiar with Hampton before he came in 1956, and one of the major reasons is that his mother went to school here. His mother, Alberta Williams King, attended Hampton and was in the class of 1925 so he already knew some things about Hampton. He knew it was a great institution, so he understood the importance of this institution and what we all are striving to be.”
Dr. Sharon Campbell Waters shared a story about the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 that was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks, and which her parents were involved in. Dr. King was asked to be President of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which led to the boycott. WPC President, Jo Ann Robinson, “said we need someone to chair the Transportation Committee and so my mother said, ‘he will,’ pointing to my father,” Waters said. Her father was the one who secured the vehicles that would give people a means to get to work since they would not be taking the bus for this prepared one-day boycott. “The bus boycott lasted for 381 days,” Waters said.
Gaylene Kaynoton, President, Hampton Branch NAACP spoke about where Hampton is at today. “Everyone is doing something now, and they’re coming together. You think about what went on in the 1960’s, that’s what’s going on right now, this is your civil rights, to all the young folks in here, we’re just here to push you along,” Kaynoton said. “Now, no one is afraid, everyone is empowered and in Hampton we are empowered. I see good things going forward for our next generation, and I see great things happening right now.”