Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive. The civil rights leader was 39, and nearly five years removed from his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
He didn’t know he had less than three months to live, said Virgil Wood, who worked with King and his family before his death. But after John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963, King thought he might be killed.
In April 1968, that came true, Wood said.
In the time since his death, like so many other King associates, Wood has tried to take up King’s torch. Now 87, the Harvard-educated professor travels the country working on education reform initiatives. He now lives in Pearland, and on Monday, went to Hitchcock’s Greater St. Matthew’s Baptist Church to talk about where King’s dream stands today.
Fifty years after his death, there’s still work to do, Wood said.
“America is one step away from falling off a cliff,” he said. “It didn’t start with Trump.”
The problems include overcrowded jails and fewer people going to church and a discriminatory education system, he said.
In a talk that was part-sermon, part-appeal for organization, Wood said that young people need to engage with older generations, who lived through the civil rights era, in order to pass on their stories and relate to their experiences.
“Right now, the old people’s stories are going to go into the graves,” Wood said.
True to his message, after Wood completed his speech, 17-year-old Joseph Collins, a Hitchcock High School senior, said young people want to, and ought to learn from older generations.
“Find an elder person in your community and just talk to them,” he said.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. This next year will see a number of celebrations about his life in places around the country — including large events on April 4 in Washington, D.C., and Memphis, Tenn.
Wood and other local organizers said they were planning local anniversary events as well, starting with a birthday celebration for Rosa Parks in February. More details have not yet been announced.