Remembering a civil rights leader |

Remembering a civil rights leader

Maggie O'Neil

Appeal Education Writer

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and students in the Carson City School District have the day off from school to commemorate the civil-rights leader’s life.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born Jan. 15, 1929, and was shot dead nearly 40 years later – while he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.

James Earl Ray was arrested for the crime two months later in the Heathrow Airport in London and was extradited and sentenced to a 99-year term. He died in prison in 1998.

King, on the other hand, died within an hour of being shot in the throat.

Teachers in the Carson City School District are making their best efforts to ensure students understand why they have the day off. And why King’s life is important. At Empire Elementary School, teacher Ingrid Frenna spent an afternoon on King assignments. The civil rights leader was also the focus of their weekly reader.

At Fremont Elementary School, students put on a play about King’s life. And at Seeliger Elementary School, teacher Dennis Beeghly discussed with students the importance of the day.

Beeghly, who grew up in Reno, was just a teenager in King’s days and he remembers seeing him on television.

“He just had such a way with words it kind of mesmerized you,” Beeghly said. “He was so dynamic. I can remember a few years back going to Washington D.C. They put a memorial marker where he gave his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. For me, it was really exciting.”

The speech Beeghly talks of is King’s “I have a Dream” address that was delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, on the stairs of the memorial of the man who ended slavery.

Some of my favorite lines – and some of the most notable – include: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream today.”

The power of his words are as strong today as they were more than 40 years ago – yes, just some 40 years ago.

“I remember that ‘Dream’ speech,” said Beeghly. “I was about 12 or 13 years old. I remember it like yesterday.”

Beeghly, a fifth-grade teacher, works every year to instruct King curriculum into his classroom.

“I was 18 when he died in Memphis,” he said. “I think that whole period of time was really pretty depressing. It was the same year that Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. I think everybody felt like everything was falling apart at the seams.”

Kennedy was 42. King was 39.

“I think King was a man of his times truly,” Beeghly said. “And I think that the whole movement – where a nation is at risk of being left behind – I think he moved that up a step and really made everyone aware. Without him doing that, I don’t think we would be where we’re at with civil rights at all.”

— Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at or 881-1219.