To honor the 50th Anniversary, the bells will toll at the Utah State Capitol at 1pm on Wednesday. And even though race riots and marches didn’t happen in Utah, the effects from Dr. King’s famous speech and the Civil Rights Movement still resonates across the world. Now, the only known Utah resident who stood before Dr. King at the National Mall tells his story of that historical day.
It was a simpler time, but a time of tough and harsh realities; especially for blacks in the Deep South.
“We ate in different places, went to different barber shops, we lived on different sides of the town, and we were considered as less than as people who because we were colored,” said Utah resident Reverend France Davis.
But then, Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. Rosa Parks started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And a little known, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged to change the status quo. While some older African Americans feared King’s mission, blacks like a then-16-year-old France Davis grabbed hold of hope.
“They saw the possibility for change and they could imagine how good things could be if we were treated the same under the law,” said Rev. Davis.
Today, Reverend Davis is head of the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. 50 years later, he still remembers, vividly, the day he stumbled across the March on Washington.
“The day was filled with speeches, singing, the politicians, unions, and other civil rights speakers. And at the end of the day, Dr. King was introduced,” said Rev. Davis. “He stood up and it was the difference between night and day. It was like turning on electrical current, electrical power, when he spoke versus all of the other speakers. So he literally moved the crowd with the speech that he delivered,” said Rev. Davis
250,000 people touched by one man with one goal: equality for all. Reverend Davis says the speech re-invigorated the Civil Rights Movement. And the dream was partially fulfilled on President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day.
“As he took the oath of office and as he came out to the stage, that for me was the most exciting day of my life ever,” said Rev. Davis.
But Reverend Davis says there’s still more work to be done.
“I am most disappointed that people are still filled with hatred and bad attitudes and that they are willing to express it even toward the highest office of this land and even the person who holds it,” said Rev. Davis.
That’s why Rev. Davis says King’s mission remains unfinished.
“One day my four little children will be judged by the content of the character and not by the color of their skin,” said Rev. Davis.
“Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, we are free at last,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Davis says he fears the world is turning back to a land full of hatred and segregation. On ABC 4 Utah at 10 Wednesday night, we will feature some key artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement.
ABC 4 Utah will live stream the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington on abc4.com