Goodwin College celebrates 50th anniversary of MLK speech

By Evan Pajer - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Feb. 22, 2013
Dr. Booker DeVaughn spoke on his experiences with segregation and racism at Goodwin College. Photos by Evan Pajer.
Dr. Booker DeVaughn spoke on his experiences with segregation and racism at Goodwin College. Photos by Evan Pajer.

Goodwin College held its second panel discussion for Black History Month on Feb. 21, marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Washington, D.C., and famed "I Have a Dream" speech. Dr. Booker DeVaughn, former president of Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, was the keynote speaker.

DeVaughn said that it is hard to describe how deep segregation penetrated into southern society. "Segregation was designed to be degrading," DeVaughn said. "It was designed to keep African-Americans in psychological shackles, and it was designed to deny them their rights and make them appear less than human, even to themselves."

DeVaughn said that in the South, segregation had gone so far that even medical care was segregated. "Hospitals were segregated. They had a separate wing for black people, if they treated them at all," DeVaughn said. "Black doctors did not have admitting privileges at some hospitals. If a person wanted to see a black doctor, they would have to go to a white doctor first to get admitted before they could go back to the black doctor."

DeVaughn said that in some areas, parking lots were segregated and courthouses would use different Bibles for those of African descent. "It's that kind of discrimination that led to the Civil Rights movement," he said. 

DeVaughn has also experienced segregation himself. When he was in eighth grade, DeVaughn said he took a train with his sister to visit relatives in Alabama from non-segegated Boston. "The train to Alabama stopped in Washington," he said. "You can see the nation's Capitol from Union Station, and even though I did not process it at that age, people were getting on segregated trains in the shadow of the Capitol."

For King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement, DeVaughn said that although battles were fought over buses and restaurants, it was always about freedom. "Integration was not about the ability to do things like go to school with white children or sit at lunch counters or on buses. It was about freedom and having the basic freedom to go out and earn a fair wage for a day's work like everyone else.

King also had ties to Connecticut, DeVaughn said. During his youth, DeVaughn said, King would travel to Connecticut to harvest tobacco in Simsbury. "King saw non-segregated society in Connecticut," he said. DeVaughn said that seeing a society without segregation inspired some of the ideas King later preached when he returned to the South.

DeVaughn said that although the world has changed greatly since the days of the civil rights movement, civil rights is still an evolving issue. "Civil rights and the progress of civil rights are a lot like the stock market - we take steps forward, and occasionally we lose ground," he said.

Randy Laist, an English professor at Goodwin College who was on a panel discussion with DeVaughn, said that King's dream has since become a reality. "If you think about the history of what King is describing, his dream is not just a dream but a prophecy," he said. "Everything worked out very well - the buses were desegregated, lunch counters were desegregated, and eventually the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act came to pass."

Another panelist, Gaylynn Moore-Collins, said she believed King would approve of today's world. "If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive today, he would be proud of us as a society. Even though we are not a perfect society or a perfect people, we are continuing to make progress."

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