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The Post (Athens, Ohio)

Behind the Picket Lines

MLK Jr. inspires generations of Non-violence

Ashley Luthern

For Francine Childs, Monday is more than a day off school - it's a chance to reflect on the day she met Martin Luther King Jr.0119 04

Childs, professor emeritus of African American Studies at Ohio University, remembers the day in 1956 when she was at a workshop about nonviolent protest and civil disobedience at the University of Texas. Gathered in a crowded room, she sat on a sofa. A moment later, King entered the room, sat on the arm of the sofa and asked Childs what she wanted to do with her life.

"To work with and influence young people to action the way you have so influenced me," she said.

Many protests, boycotts and years later, she has achieved that goal. When she returned to Paul Quinn College in Dallas after the workshop, she helped lead similar trainings for other students and led a boycott against a local drugstore that would not let any black people eat at the lunch counter.

As she walked across the street to start the boycott, Childs carried a pocketknife.

"Even though we'd gone through the workshops, I wasn't sure if I could face the rotten eggs and name calling and spit," she said. "But then my boyfriend asked if I wanted to be a part of history or prevent it from happening. I flipped the knife in the weeds and never went back."

The boycott was successful.

Fast forward to 1970, when then-OU president Claude Sowle called the National Guard to OU. This was in the aftermath of the Kent State University shootings in May of that year.

Also that May, OU closed for several months because of violent confrontations between students and police. The graduating class, including now-President Roderick McDavis, received their diplomas in the mail.

Then to now

OU has seen protests this year about topics ranging from the cutting of four sports programs to the layoffs of university custodial staff to the existence of "free speech zones."

Students for a Democratic Society has been at the forefront of most of these protest efforts.

Civil rights activists protested with the goal of taking action against injustices, said Will Klatt, member of SDS. But now, many protests are used to raise awareness about a problem.

SDS member Olivia Dawson said that protesting can be difficult.

"I struggle with the idea of protest because you can drive six hours for a protest where you shake your fist and then nothing comes of it," she said.

SDS has considered sit-ins, but more and more those methods don't seem feasible because people are not willing to get arrested, Dawson said.

"The greatest challenge we face on this campus is apathy," she said.

Klatt echoed her statement, saying that students need to get involved.

"Politics isn't about going to the polls twice a year; it's an experience for every day, said Klatt.

Copyright © 2008 The Post

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