A photo from D.C. Public Library's online exhibit, "Evolutions and Legacies: Martin Luther King Jr. and D.C., 1957-1972" (Courtesy of DCPL)
A photo from D.C. Public Library's online exhibit, "Evolutions and Legacies: Martin Luther King Jr. and D.C., 1957-1972" (Courtesy of DCPL)

The year 1968 proved both historically amazing and devastating for Washingtonians. In addition to seeing the rise of grass-roots movements to establish a city college (Federal City College) and the groundbreaking for the MLK Library, the year also saw the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — and in the case of the former, the leveling of several neighborhoods during a rebellion.

The D.C. Public Library recently unveiled a series of programs and events highlighting the many events of that pivotal year that shaped D.C. life.

The online exhibit, “Evolutions and Legacies: Martin Luther King Jr. and D.C., 1957-1972,” showcases a section titled “The People’s University,” offering a glimpse into the local schema of statecraft King and others utilized to fashion a larger, national movement.

“Dr. King’s activism in the District wasn’t limited to national causes,” says Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the D.C. Public Library. “Just like he supported voting rights nationally, Dr. King advocated for the voting rights of District residents who were, and continue to be, uniquely disenfranchised. As a keeper of the city’s stories, the Library is committed to showcasing Dr. King’s advocacy in a way that is uniquely local.”

Washingtonians have long claimed King as a native son. In addition to visiting the District often to champion civil rights for African Americans, King was a strong advocate for the city’s Home Rule efforts.

Curated by Derek Gray, special collections archivist, and Dr. Marya Annette McQuirter, curator of the dc1968 project “Evolutions and Legacies,” explores how more Washingtonians embraced King as awareness of his work expanded from segregation and white supremacy protests in the south to include his critiques of poverty, capitalism and the Vietnam War. The exhibit traces King’s unique experiences and relationships in the District, using images from the Library’s Special Collections and widens conversations about his legacy in the early 21st century.

Big names, however, are not what make the exhibit poignant, said Ward 8 resident Walter Mills, who told The Informer that many city teens are shown working tirelessly to establish statehood and access to decent housing, as well eradicate hiring discrimination.

“One of the first faces I saw visiting the online exhibit was a young Barbara McCoy at the microphone onstage, rallying against the end of a UPO job program,” Mills said. “I was in that room. I remember that. That, I believe, is the real power of this exhibition. The residents can point to themselves, show their homegrown advocacy, and hopefully inspire young people today to pick up the fight.”

The exhibit can be viewed by visiting https://arcg.is/1PnSLr.

The 2018 People’s University program is supported by the DC Public Library Foundation. For updates on the Library’s programs, go ​https://www.dclibrary.org/1968 and follow #PeoplesUniversity on social media.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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