During a candlelight vigil walk Thursday, two UF students held signs pointing in opposite directions.
One read, “Colored Only.” The other, “Whites Only.”
The diverse crowd looked nervously at each other as they took their paths.
A white mother and her young son split up.
“This is how it used to be,” she told him.
The event was the opening ceremony for the Martin Luther King Celebration Committee, one of many that members of the UF and Gainesville community hosted to honor the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, UF students participated in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, while Gainesville residents marched from Bo Diddley Community Plaza to the MLK Multipurpose Center on 1028 NE 14th St., less than two miles away. Events hosted by the MLK Celebration Committee will continue through Jan. 31 on UF’s campus, according to Alligator archives.
On Thursday, about 100 UF faculty, staff and students participated in the opening ceremony, holding white candles as they walked from the old Institute of Black Culture building to the Reitz Union Rion Ballroom. Everyone was welcome.
“It brings together UF students for the legacy of the civil rights march,” said Freddie Jones, a 20-year-old UF English and sociology sophomore.
During the vigil, participants watched students represent events during the Civil Rights era and recent years. After the “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” groups reunited, they passed students lying on the ground holding signs reading “Am I Next?” and another student held in a chokehold by a white student.
After an hourlong presentation on Bo Diddley Community Plaza on Monday, about 400 people danced and sang their way through downtown Gainesville to celebrate the life of King, who would have been 88 years old Monday.
Gainesville resident Shaniqua Smith wore a foam lady liberty hat as she marched. One group of marchers coordinated outﬁts — all wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, including Gainesville resident Mary Fukuyama.
“I’m encouraged by the turnout,” Fukuyama said. “I think this last election cycle raised everybody’s awareness about the impact of racism and prejudice at the national level.”
Before the march, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe told the crowd of about 200 that it’s the community’s responsibility to address racism.
“So long as we are disproportionately arresting young black men, we must bend the arc,” Poe said. “So long as people of color are not receiving the same education and outcomes as whites, we must bend the arc.”
Earlier Monday, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida, Inc, inducted Dorcas “Candy” Ramseur, the commission’s secretary, and Adam Maxwell, a senior at P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School, into their hall of fame at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Garden. Rodney Long, the commission’s founder and president, talked about joining together to create change.
“If Dr. King were here today, he would ask the question, ‘What has happened to our America?’” he said. “We have to learn to become the change that we want our country to become.”
UF President Kent Fuchs addressed a crowd of more than 300 UF students in the Reitz Union Rion Ballroom for the start of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday morning.
The event, hosted by the Brown Center for Leadership and Service, had the largest number of participants yet, said Josh Funderburke, the center’s director. Participants volunteered at 15 different nonprofits around Gainesville.
“What they’re doing is exactly what Martin Luther King asked,” Fuchs said. “And that is to answer the question of ‘what will we give back to the communities that we live in?”
During the event, about 40 Wells Fargo & Co. employees and volunteers helped a Gainesville homeowner ﬁ x her home on the 1000 block of NW 55th St. Volunteers painted and installed cabinets, while the bank gave $10,000 for supplies, said Morris Jackson, Wells Fargo & Co.’s area president.
“Everyone wants to give back to their community,” Jackson said. “As they give, they have a good time.”
Malik Pittman and members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity Inc, took part in the event to honor King, who was a brother of their fraternity.
“Since civil rights, there’s been a lot of change that’s happened in the community, and it’s important for us to honor the people who paved the way for us and make today the way it is,” Pittman said.
Staff writers Romy Ellenbogen, Paige Fry, Meryl Kornﬁeld, Molly Vossler and Mary-Lou Watkinson contributed to this report
Maurice Spence, the president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity Gainesville chapter, holds a Martin Luther King Jr. sign during a march on Monday. “We are instrumental as leaders for the civil rights movement,” Spence said about the fraternity. “We support Dr. King’s efforts on a local and national level.”