For many young people in Oklahoma, the civil rights movement is something that happened somewhere else, in a different time. But at Langston University, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. hits closer to home.
Oklahoma's only historically black college was at the center of civil rights issues in the state, and several Langston alumni fought some of the most important battles.
Langston roommates Nancy Randolph Davis and Ada Lois Sipuel went on to become the first black students to enroll at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma law school, respectively.
Another notable alumna, Clara Luper, was among the leaders of the Oklahoma City sit-in movement in the late 1950s.
One of today's Langston students, Kavaris Sims, said the university's role in the civil rights movement is always present and is taught to every student.
“To have that history and for (professors) to give us that knowledge and letting us know that we are part of a legacy, it's awesome,” Sims said.
“We are always enthused about it.”
Sims said when he hears stories from alumni about the struggles they went through, he is appreciative of how lucky he is to have the opportunities he sometimes take for granted.
“I think our generation has had the privilege of not seeing that side of American history,” Sims said. “It's a part of America whether we truly accept it or not.”
Betty Black, director of libraries at Langston, said many students will take advantage of the day off Monday and go to Oklahoma City or Guthrie to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades. Oklahoma City's parade will begin at 2 p.m. at Broadway Avenue and NW 7. Guthrie's parade will be at noon Monday.
Black said she has seen numerous students recite King's “I Have a Dream” speech in previous weeks, which she thinks is great. But she tries to impart to students that King's memory and lessons should not be restricted to one time a year.
“To me, every month of my life is Black History Month,” she said.
“And I think it's the same way with Dr. King. I mean, having a holiday is great, but that doesn't mean you stop showing the principles he stood for the rest of the time.”
Oklahoma State University's African-American Student Association held an event Wednesday that celebrated King with speeches and music by a gospel choir. The gathering drew a diverse crowd, said Evan Woodson, event coordinator.
Woodson said his aim was to be more inclusive for OSU's campus, where the majority of students are white.
“When we promote MLK Day, we sometimes promote it as something that is for African-Americans and African-Americans only,” Woodson said. “And I think that is an extreme failure on our part. King's influence is so much bigger than just the black community; it's the whole country. And that's why I think it's important to talk about him.”