The three young men, two white college students from the North and one black from Mississippi, were returning to Meridian, MI after a voter registration event. They were arrested just outside Philadelphia for speeding, jailed and later that evening released after posting bail.
Klan members stopped their car, shot them at point blank range in assassination style and buried them beneath a dam. When local authorities showed little interest in locating the bodies, national outrage forced President Lyndon Johnson to send in an army of FBI agents to find the bodies and prosecute the murderers, including a deputy sheriff.
The three slain Freedom Riders; James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, did not die in vain. Their deaths resulted in the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law by Johnson. Philadelphia, MI became the battle cry of the nonviolence Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life we celebrate today.
Philadelphia, MI 50 years ago embodied the classic definition of racism. How far have core rights progressed since then? Not only do Mississippi minorities freely register and vote, the last two mayors of Philadelphia, MI are African Americans. The community now boasts an economy based on technology and new high tech companies locating there, not its previous distinction of being a headquarters for the Klan.
Dr. King’s dream was realized in Philadelphia, MI. Voters there are judging others based on character, not the color of their skin. The dream continues to inspire us.
Freedom, equality and justice require ongoing and constant effort. They are realized not only by laws and policies. Dr. King’s dream requires a culture that embraces these rights.
In the School District of Janesville, we celebrate Dr. King’s dream as it relates to children. He often spoke of kids of all races playing and studying together. We celebrate this day by teaching our students about Dr. King and others who worked toward the same goals.
At the School District of Janesville, we join the world in celebrating Dr. King’s life. We embrace his dream. It is our policy, and it is a permanent part of our culture.