Martin Luther King Jr. celebration held Jan. 18-22

L. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American elected governor in the United States, will be the keynote speaker for Western Carolina University’s annual celebration in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

L. Douglas Wilder

L. Douglas Wilder

Wilder, who served as governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994, will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center as part of a program sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor.

He will chronicle the civil rights movement in the United States and share what life and politics were like in a state that once denied him admission to its law schools in his speech “The Movement: Past, Present and Future.”

Wilder held a bachelor’s degree in chemistry when he returned from the Korean War with a Bronze Star and decided to take advantage of the GI Bill to study law. Because Virginia barred African-Americans from its law schools, he earned his degree from Howard University Law School and then returned to his old neighborhood in Richmond, Va., to establish a private practice.

He was elected a Virginia state senator in 1969 and Virginia lieutenant governor in 1985. Wilder then was elected governor of the state in 1990. Most recently, he served as mayor of Richmond, Va., from 2005 to 2009.

Wilder helped develop the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va., and championed the creation of the elected mayor of Richmond, Virginia. He has advocated for fair housing, labor union rights for public employees and minority hiring.

Other events planned at WCU as part of the King celebration range from service activities to panel discussions.

On Monday, Jan. 18, which is a university holiday, there will be a vigil at the Alumni Tower at 10 a.m.; service activities coordinated by the Center for Service Learning from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.; opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Art and Essay Gallery on the second floor of the University Center at 1 p.m.; and screening of and discussion about the documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” in the University Center theater at 7 p.m.

Then on Tuesday, Jan. 19, a panel discussion titled “We Make the Whee: Together We Read” will be held in the Grandroom of the University Center. The reading selection is centered on “The Drum Major Instinct” speech that King delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Feb. 4, 1968.

Final events include a “Tunnel of Oppression” in the University Center Grandroom from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, and a “Poetry Grind” in the Starbucks at Courtyard Dining Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 22.

Events are sponsored by the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Office of the Chancellor, Center for Service Learning, Center for Leadership, Organization of Ebony Students, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Student Government Association. For more information, check out the Office of Multicultural Affairs Web site at or contact Yolany Gonell, assistant director of multicultural affairs, at or 828-227-2276.