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Milwaukee Events Honor Legacy, Life Of Martin Luther King Jr.

Speeches Touch On Hurdles Country, State Have Yet To Solve

Martin Luther King Jr.
Horace Cort/AP Photo

One of many Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in Wisconsin on Monday focused on the final year of the civil rights leader’s life.

Milwaukee peace activist Julie Enslow has written a play called “King’s Last Year.” The play is about King’s difficult last year of life, including his depression, attempts to organize a Poor People’s Campaign and criticism King encountered during his increased opposition to the Vietnam War.

Pansy Williams sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Martin Luther King Justice Coalition event in Milwaukee.Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

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At a reading of the play Monday, held by the Martin Luther King Justice Coalition, Larry Bandy voiced a statement that King wrote in October 1967 during a brief jail stay in Alabama.

“We are witnessing an escalating disregard for constitutional freedom. In the last two weeks, U.S. marshals, state troopers and local police have clubbed demonstrators in Washington, Berkeley and Madison, Wisconsin,” Bandy read.

In the 1967 writing, King was referring to the Dow Chemical protest held by anti-war demonstrators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Martin Luther King Jr. talks with reporters at the University of Wisconsin center in Kenosha, April 28, 1967. Paul Shane/AP Photo

Two miles away, at an Martin Luther King Jr. celebration held at Milwaukee County’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the director of the recently created Milwaukee County Office of African-American Affairs emphasized King’s focus on race and equity.

Director Nicole Brookshire said Wisconsin must find ways to stop having the nation’s highest incarceration rate for black men.

“It’s critical that we find solutions,” Brookshire said. “Solutions that help us bring our men back home, developing a family and fabric, but also critical in how we shape our future for our children.”

Brookshire said some progress in racial equality has been made in the nearly 50 years since King died, but not across the board. Brookshire said she’s developing a list of priorities for the county’s African-American Affairs Office based on some recent listening sessions.

King was fatally shot nearly 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. He would have turned 89 years old on Monday.