MLK Essay Contest deadline nears

MLK Essay Contest deadline nears

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The 2023 Martin Luther King Essay Contest, a project of the Wooster-Orrville NAACP, focuses on an important turning point in the civil rights movement — the 1963 “Children’s March” in Birmingham, Alabama.

The deadline for the annual essay contest, for area students grouped by grades, is Dec. 9. The essay prompts were emailed to schools in Wooster and Wayne County in early May for distribution to teachers in district schools. There are three winners in each category — grades 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12 — for a total of 12 winners who each receive a plaque and a monetary award. Copies of the prompts also are available at the Wayne County Public Library’s main branch in Wooster at the adult reference desk on the second floor.

On May 2, 1963, hundreds of school children from all over Birmingham poured into the streets outside the 16th Street Baptist Church and began walking toward downtown to protest the long-segregated stores, lunch counters and parks. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been in Birmingham since early April to challenge “the most segregated city in the South” and the laws that separated blacks from whites. Dr. King’s campaign was near collapse as many adult protesters had been jailed or fired from jobs and needed to work.

That’s when James Bevel’s call went out to Birmingham’s school children, at first mostly teens but later those as young as 9. The nation watched in horror as policemen arrested hundreds of children and teens and took them to jail or the county fairgrounds. The following days saw police and firemen using billy clubs, police dogs and high-pressure water hoses to disperse the crowds of children.

The city council and businessmen, wanting to stop the damage to Birmingham’s reputation, came to the negotiating table with King, and an agreement was made to phase in integration of the downtown. The Children’s March, against great odds, had accomplished what the adults had been unable to do.

The keynote speaker for the 2023 Martin Luther King Celebration Service on Jan. 16, where the essay winners will receive their awards, is Rev. Gwendolyn Webb of Birmingham, Alabama, who at age 14 was one of the school children who joined the protests, spent time in jail and was sprayed by water hoses.