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Local civil rights leader remembers MLK speech

By Jonathan Radford, jradford@wcyb.com
Published On: Aug 28 2013 05:35:05 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 28 2013 10:39:09 AM CDT

On Wednesday people across the country reflected on the nation's civil rights progress since the historic March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech."

BRISTOL, Va. -

On Wednesday people across the country reflected on the nation's civil rights progress since the historic March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Rev. Dr. W.A. Johnson, a local civil rights leader and pastor of Lee Street Baptist church in Bristol, Virginia, talked about how far the nation has come since this day 50 years ago. "We wanted to build [Lee Street Baptist] and move the church. We could not buy land where we wanted to because of segregation," said Dr. Johnson.

Segregation is what tried to keep Johnson from moving his church to its current location in downtown. "I have seen a complete turnaround in civil rights. This church is sitting on property that we could not [previously] purchase," he said.

Before Johnson would ever try and build a church in the South, he would first march for civil rights in Chicago. "King would come up to speak and hold rallies. I was a part of those," Johnson said.

Those same rallies and Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech would soon lead to a turnaround. "The March and the civil rights laws in '64 and '65 begin to break away the shackles," he said.

Shackles that were broken to make way for young men and women like Emory & Henry student Leroy Sticklend. "Right now I'm at an institution that is very diverse, but back in those days that was unthought-of. Some people thought that would never even happen. So I feel like we are experiencing a little bit of the dream today," Stricklend told us.

The dream is becoming a reality one day at a time.