I’d like to welcome all of you to our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. forum. I can’t think of a better way to kick off my new role as KCTCS president than with this forum—celebrating the life of one of the most courageous leaders in the history of the United States. All of you are aware that in the early 1960s, Dr. King was the face and voice of desegregation in our country. He organized and led nonviolent protests in many cities in America’s Deep South. He worked with national leaders to make his dream a reality, and convinced people of all colors, from all walks of life that segregation was not the American way. In a country based on freedom and liberty, many of our countrymen were living in a world of inequality. Through Dr. King’s efforts and the efforts of many others, our nation’s public schools became integrated—although slower in some parts of the county than others.
The 1960s was a formative time for me as a young boy growing up in a small West Texas town. Crane, Texas was a typical Texas oil field town with a population of less than 3,000 and less than 10% of that population being Black. The school system was one of the highest rated in the state because the tax revenue from the oil companies allowed the school board to hire the very best teachers to educate the children. In spite of that wealth and the reputation for excellence, Crane in the early 1960s was a segregated school district with the black children attending their own schools. But in the summer of 1965, that changed when the Crane ISD School Board voted to integrate the schools. I was to begin the fifth grade that fall, and I can tell you that my parents and most other adults were scared of what would happen when all of the black children started to attend my school. However, most of us kids weren’t scared. You see, all of us boys, black and white, had played baseball together for several years. We knew each other; we didn’t fear each other. And fear is one of the biggest obstacles to change.
The school board’s decision to integrate the schools was not a popular one. The board was mostly made up of white men. And although the board was not unanimous on their decision to integrate, they all agreed to implement the new policy. The major driver of that decision was Mr. Bert Asher, a World War II veteran and Texaco Oil Company employee who had two children in the Crane schools. He also was very active in the Crane Little League. Bert Asher was one of the most outspoken supporters of integration. Looking back now on Mr. Asher’s leadership at a time when he knew the Board’s decision would be so controversial in the community, I am amazed how courageous he was. I’m sure he lost many friends. But Mr. Asher did what was right.
So did Martin Luther King, Jr. His courage was constantly on display at rallies and demonstrations across the nation. Our country is a greater place to live because of his courage. But Dr. King’s tireless civil rights advocacy during the 60s eventually cost him his life. For his efforts, each year we celebrate his life.
But recent events such as those in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City remind us that racial tension still exists in our country. We are entering a period in our history that requires courageous leaders. We need individuals who are dedicated to doing the right thing even when their actions won’t be the most popular. Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
As we celebrate MLK, Jr. today, I challenge all of you to model Dr. King and be courageous leaders. We are living in challenging times and our students deserve no less. KCTCS plays a vital role in providing access and equity in education and everyone in this room as a part to play in accomplishing this mission.
In closing, I would like to encourage everyone to be a part of our Super Sunday event on Sunday, February 22. This is out fifth year anniversary partnering with African-American and Latino churches throughout the state to host college information fairs for prospective students and their families. Since 2011, we have partnered with more than 150 churches and have shared the Yes You Can Go To College message with more than 33,000 individuals. This community-based outreach effort is paying off resulting in increased college attendance among African- Americans and Latinos in Kentucky. This year the System Office will be partnering with the First Missionary Baptist Church in Versailles and The Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church in Lexington. If you are interested in participating please contact Natalie Gibson.
Thank you for attending the Forum today. I will now turn the program over to Natalie Gibson who will introduce our guest speaker.