A one-time associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said Saturday evening that he likes the commitment he sees among Topekans to keeping alive the principles for which King fought.
“From greatness, greatness is expected,” said Bernard Lafayette. “And what you have as a resource among yourselves is something the nation needs.”
The 77-year-old Lafayette appeared as guest speaker at Living the Dream Inc.’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship and Awards Banquet in the Regency Ballroom of the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center.
About 560 people attended, said John Nave, a board member for Living the Dream.
The program passed out to those attending Saturday’s event told of how Lafayette during the 1960s battle for civil rights served as a freedom rider and endured riots, fire bombings and jail time.
His involvement in the battle for civil rights brought Lafayette into contact with King, who hired him in 1967 as program coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
King was born Jan. 15, 1929, and was fatally shot by an assassin on April 4, 1968. He would have been 89 years old on Monday.
Lafayette told a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter before Saturday’s address that this marked his first visit to Topeka, which played a key role in the historic 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that banned racial segregation in U.S. schools.
Lafayette said he was impressed with the size of Saturday’s event, and inspired to see that people here are not satisfied with the progress that’s been made to realize Dr. King’s dream.
Lafayette said during Saturday’s address that he was pleased about his audience’s diversity in terms of age, ethnicity and culture.
“What you have to do now is take what you have and spread it around,” he said. “Don’t just keep it in Topeka.”
Saturday’s audience also heard briefly from Mary Liuzzo Lilliboe, the daughter of Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old Detroit housewife fatally shot in 1965 by the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama while taking part in civil rights efforts there.
Lilliboe said her mom went to Alabama not to die, but to help people to vote. She encouraged those present to fight for voting rights.
Saturday’s event also featured a presentation of “King & Cronkite: A Live Multimedia Performance,” starring Jim Korinke and Robert Vardiman — from Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo. — as Cronkite and King, respectively.
The performance featured Coppage speaking King’s words and Korinke sharing Cronkite’s perspectives on the civil rights movement.
The Lex Norwood Group performed music at Saturday’s event, where Living the Dream also honored winners of scholarships and community awards.
Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.