Honoring Dr. King unveils justice for three Stetson Law students

When the new statue honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 22, a crowd of hundreds swarmed the statue. It is the first time a memorial has been erected on the Mall to someone who is not a U.S. president.

Student Maria Bogomaz took this photo while traveling with the civil rights course.

Student Maria Bogomaz took this photo while traveling with the civil rights course.

Dr. King has special meaning for Stetson Law students Traci Blake, Maria Bogomaz and Howard Williams, who were part of a group who traveled over the summer to meet with veterans of the American Civil Rights Movement. The students spent the summer traveling by bus with Freedom Rider Ernest “Rip” Patton as part of a course offered by Stetson University and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The students visited the historic sites where bus boycotts, church bombings and confrontations with the KKK mark the struggle for racial equality in the U.S., and they met with the individuals who fought for civil rights more than 50 years ago.

“They made our country,” said third-year law student Maria Bogomaz. “Movement veterans such as Dr. King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Diane Nash, James Bevel, C.T. Vivian, and every Freedom Rider have had as much (if not more) impact on modern citizenship as James Madison or George Washington.”

Third-year student Traci Blake said she thinks that Dr. King and other movement veterans had an impact on the way we view justice.

“They helped us to realize that justice and change starts with the people—from the bottom up. It is the responsibility of each of us to make sure that we live in a more just society and to speak up when things are not right,” she said.

Howard Williams, the president of Stetson’s Black Law Students Association and a student in the part-time law program, said he hopes that the King memorial in Washington will inspire people to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders.

“Dr. King and many of the others in the movement changed our country into the democracy that we have now,” said Williams, who credits Dr. King’s non-violent approach with effecting positive change.

Students cross the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama with Freedom Rider Ernest "Rip" Patton, at the site of a march that helped make the Voting Rights Act of 1965 possible.

“The leaders in the Civil Rights Movement gave people the courage to take a stand and fight racism all over the country,” Williams said. “I think the Dr. King memorial is a good sign of where our country has come from, especially when you remember that just 55 years ago black people could not sit in the same establishments as white people.”

Stetson Law professor Robert Bickel created the Constitutional Law and the Civil Rights Movement course and traveled with the students.

Professor Bickel said, “It is clear that Dr. King’s leadership, and his vision of social justice, will continue to inspire both Americans who experienced this transformative era in modern American history and the future generations who will visit this memorial, as they do the Lincoln memorial and ascend the steps to the very place that bonded Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. and challenged a nation to live up to the principles which Lincoln identified with democracy.”

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