RICHMOND, Va. -- The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. filled Coburn Hall at Virginia Union University (VUU) , 50 years to the day the civil rights leader was assassinated on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.
"Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action... I have heard the word, wait. It rings in the ears of every Negro with piercing familiarity... That justice too long delayed, is justice denied," presenters read Dr. King's writing from the Birmingham Jail.
Those in attendance Wednesday said Dr. King, who visited the Richmond-Petersburg area at least 10 times fighting racial and social injustice, would be both proud and upset with the Richmond he would see in 2018.
"There has been progress, but that progress has been stalled, it has been episodic, and it has not been as wide-spread," said Corey Walker, Vice President of VUU. "King challenged not only our society but challenged the world to fundamentally transform. His call for us today is for a fundamental transformation. A transformation of our values of our social order."
On March 4, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis to lend his support for sanitation workers in the city who were on strike because of unfair wages and unsafe work environments.
Several Richmond Public Works employees attended the VUU ceremony Wednesday. Mavis Green said his crew is thankful for the sacrifices Dr. King made during his life and recognizes the work of King's message is far from finished.
"He wanted all people to be able to hold hands, walk, talk and speak and not a nation divided," Green said. "When people gather together for unity and righteousness, it's going to be alright."
At 7:05 p.m., the moment Dr. King died in 1968, VUU, the University of Richmond, and others across the country rang bell towers 39 times to signify the 39 years Dr. King lived. As the bell tower tolled, Walker said he thought about just how young Dr. King was when he was killed, and the societal impact he made in that time. Walker noted the Dr. King was 26 years old when he began his public ministry.
"We have a 13-year period when King is really active on the public scene, and in those 13 years, he really transformed this world. It just gives you the idea of the power of youth, of individuals who are committed to an ideal, and individuals who are committed to the highest expressions of our humanity. What they can do to transform our world, not only then, but also now and into the future."
"If we can come and unite in the way Dr. King wanted us to, we'll be alright," Green said.
Virginia's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission has traced Dr. King's travels in the Commonwealth during the civil rights movement. To learn more about the time Dr. King spent in Richmond, Petersburg, and the Commonwealth, click here.