West Side Students Mark Bitter Moment In History
Forty-nine years ago Tuesday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
Seventh and eighth-grade students from William Penn Elementary School in the North Lawndale neighborhood marked the date by walking across the street to the block where King lived in 1966.
There’s a tiny museum there devoted to the fair housing fight King helped lead.
The students talked with teacher and activist Prexy Nesbitt about King’s life, about the marches, about rocks hurled, about his assassination.
“He had to be almost fearless,” one seventh-grade boy said, “to go out there and do all that.”
“He was fearless,” Nesbitt told him. “He was. But you know what else he would have said? ‘We are the ones we are waiting for.’”
The West Side burned after King was killed.
“The scars are still evident,” said Richard Townsell, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, which organized the visit for Penn students. “A lot of the vacant lots that exist now are buildings that were burned down and have never been rebuilt.”
The corporation has helped bring $100 million in real estate projects to the challenged neighborhood over the last 15 years, from affordable housing to a daycare center to a Lou Malnati’s pizza joint that hires the formerly incarcerated.
Townsell asked the students what they imagine for their neighborhood.
“A Game Stop!” one student said. “A college!” said another. “Jobs,” said a third.