West Side Students Mark Bitter Moment In History

On the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., activist and teacher Prexy Nesbitt spoke about King’s life with seventh- and eighth-graders from William Penn Elementary School on the Chicago's West Side at the Fair Housing Exhibit Center across the street from their school. King lived on the same block during 1966.
On the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., activist and teacher Prexy Nesbitt spoke about King’s life with seventh- and eighth-graders from William Penn Elementary School on the Chicago's West Side at the Fair Housing Exhibit Center across the street from their school. King lived on the same block during 1966. Linda Lutton / WBEZ
On the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., activist and teacher Prexy Nesbitt spoke about King’s life with seventh- and eighth-graders from William Penn Elementary School on the Chicago's West Side at the Fair Housing Exhibit Center across the street from their school. King lived on the same block during 1966.
On the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., activist and teacher Prexy Nesbitt spoke about King’s life with seventh- and eighth-graders from William Penn Elementary School on the Chicago's West Side at the Fair Housing Exhibit Center across the street from their school. King lived on the same block during 1966. Linda Lutton / WBEZ

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.