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A Silent Beacon: MLK Memorial Hidden in Plain Sight

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”

The weathered bronze plaque sits nestled in the Kinnikinnick bush, between the barberry bushes outside Cannell Library, its existence nearly forgotten.

“I have a dream…” the plaque begins.

The immortal words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still echo with power, more than half a century since they were first proclaimed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King’s message remains a beacon to many, despite living in a society that wants to bitterly ignore the constant social struggles that people of color still face.  

The story of Clark’s memorial to King, has largely been lost to time, its origins shrouded in mystery.

In 1972, four years after the assassination of King, Clark College commissioned a small stone monument to be placed to honor his memory in a garden near the library. The Black Students for Change, a campus organization, oversaw the project. The memorial was a small bronze plaque gifted from an outside donor. BSC President Levi Harris led the dedication just outside Foster Hall.  A short article appeared in the Indy when it was erected. Beyond this, no additional records surrounding the memorial exists, yet it still speaks volumes in its silent mystery.

According to “A Brief History of Vancouver Public Schools,” an authoritative encyclopedia concerning the origins of schools in the county, times were very different at Clark College when the memorial was placed. Students hardly participated in administrative duties and social tensions ran high. With the Vietnam War wheezing to a close, veterans returned to colleges in droves. Affirmative action groups grew on campuses nationwide. Attacking social structures from the outside resulted in limited impacts, which frustrated student activists. They began working from the inside, cooperating with social systems to bring about change.

Positions in the student body government, which had been scoffed at during the 1960s, were sought after to establish positive educational and progressive trends.

For the first time, the school handbook clearly defined student rights. Dozens of African American students successfully pushed for courses to be taught in black studies.

This fervor for student involvement prompted the current dean, Dr. I.S. “Bud” Hakanson, to appoint student representatives for positions that had previously been restricted to faculty members. This gave students a voice in financial decisions for the school.

Clark’s infrastructure was transforming as well. A 1.9 million dollar federally funded housing unit opened their doors to students. Clark acquired 80 acres to expand the campus and construction had begun on a new vocational building to supplement the successful dental hygiene program.

The memorial was placed during the years of Clark College’s most radical changes and reinventions. It is a small sliver of the altruistic, spirit of change, contained in the heart of King’s message. Its silent presence has been felt.Fast forward to 2019.

Clark is no longer a small two year college with a handful of vocational options. Students have an active voice in administrative affairs and international groups abound.

However, bias based incidents still continue to plague our campus. Racist flyers have been found hanging in public spaces and neo-Nazi graffiti has been etched into walls.

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Dr. King, your dream has been realized but it has not been easy.  We still have a long way to go. Your dream has called out the worst of humankind, to test the best of us. It has brought together the persecuted, to raise-up the downtrodden. It has given us strength, courage and the opportunity to persevere, beyond the scars of segregation. It has given us hope.

Hope that cannot be taken for granted. The sacrifice has been too great.

The shedding of innocent blood. The years of abuse. The cruelty that marginalized people everywhere have endured, as we live that dream.

The dream is too great to fade into the complacency of false security, like a tarnished, eroding plaque, forgotten in the shrubs.

The dream is too great to be silenced by all the combined voices of hate, that would drown out the message of love and equality. A message delivered by an exemplary humanitarian, who gave his life in pursuit of racial equality and the destruction of segregation.

The dream is too great to ever be taken away from us.

We share your dream Dr. King, we live it everyday. United against hate, together as one, we will endure.

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