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University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, area leaders honor King's legacy

story and photos by Brittany Ransom
bransom@thecitywire.com

Hundreds gathered at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Monday (Jan. 20) morning to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the annual MLK Day Breakfast.

Sponsored by UAFS and the MLK Community Association, the event welcomed students, government representatives, community leaders, and area citizens.

The event was held in the Reynolds Room of the university's Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.  Members of the MLK Committee, as well as UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran, gave greetings and shared with the audience about the importance of the day's events.

The breakfast is one of several annual events sponsored by the MLK Community Association to honor the life of the late civil rights leader. The committee's theme for this year's celebration is "Out of a Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope."

Following the breakfast, guests had the opportunity to attend different educational sessions, led by UAFS Faculty and community leaders. Topics included Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy of nonviolence, MLK in the study of public history, and a personal reflection on civil rights and the freedom riders by well-known activist Euba Harris-Winton.

Tom Wing, Director of the historic Drennen-Scott House in Van Buren and Associate Professor at UAFS, gave a unique presentation entitled "The Slave Have Names." During his session, Wing shared pictures and documents that show the role slaves played in the Drennen Estate of the 1800s and explained to participants how such artifacts had been used to help relatives trace roots to their ancestors.

"I had an experience that will be hard to ever top, in which I was able to connect a fifth-generation relative of a Drennen House slave named Patrick, to a fifth generation relative of John Drennen, who was the slave's owner."

Wing explained that the reunion between Angela Walton-Raji and Caroline Bercher, descendent of John Dreenen, was very emotional and that it was fascinating how he had been able to use oral history from Walton-Raji's family and pieces from the Drennen collection to trace back her lineage and ultimately make the connection between the two families.

At the conclusion of the break-out sessions, participants gathered in front of the Smith-Pendergraft Center to line up for a march honoring King. Symbolic of the freedom marches from the 1960s, a moment of silence was observed in King's honor, while the bell tolled 28 times. Marchers then made their way around campus and to the bell tower where a celebration and brief program was held.

MLK Day festivities will continue throughout the week beginning with an Ecumenical Prayer Service at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Smith on Monday evening (Jan. 20) beginning at 7 p.m.

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On Jan. 23, Crystal C. Mercer of Little Rock, daughter of legendary civil rights lawyer Christopher C. Mercer, Jr., will give a performance at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, as part of the "Unsung Heroes: Celebrating Freedom in the Visual and Performing Arts" series. The presentation will be held in the Reynolds Room of the UAFS Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center beginning at 10 a.m. The event will also feature a student-led panel speaking on "Finding Your Voice in the Arts," as well as the presentation of the "Unsung Hero Award," given by the American Democracy Project at UAFS.

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