Assembly attendees were enthralled by the historical account Milton Carver Davis gave of growing up in Tuskegee during Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in nearby Montgomery.
Davis, former assistant attorney general in Alabama, as well as the 29th general president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, recalled life as a six-year-old in Tuskegee.
His mother was a public-school teacher and his father was a World War II combat veteran.
“My parents were not easily led by anyone,” Davis said.
However, Davis said, they were greatly impressed by King, a young minister in Montgomery.
In an area with two HBCUs and a highly educated population, it was unusual for a 26-year-old to impress people of that stature, Davis said.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the leader,” Davis said. “Anytime the television or the radio carried a story featuring him, my father would tell everyone in the house to be silent. ‘Hush. Listen. Dr. King is speaking.’”
Davis said it wasn’t just the protocol in his household. It was that way for the entire black community.
“Wherever you were, the command was, ‘Hush. Listen. Dr. King is speaking,’” Davis said.
Davis said his father told him that Dr. King couldn’t say everything plainly in the open, so listen closely for Dr. King’s underlying message.
Davis highlighted the successes and struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, including the march on Frankfort to end segregation in public facilities, which included Dr. King and Kentucky State students.
At 36 years old and already a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. King would deliver the commencement address at Tuskegee University, just two months after the epic Selma to Montgomery march.
Davis was in attendance amongst the thousands.
“From his first utterance, his first words, the entire audience fell silent,” Davis said.
After the address, Davis and his brother started walking home, excited about what they had seen and heard.
“As we walked across campus to our path home, we had to pass by Dorothy Hall,” Davis said. “We saw Dr. King exiting the building, surrounded by the university president, trustees and officials.”
Davis believes the rest is divine intervention.
“To this day, I can’t tell you how we got close enough to ask: please sign our program,” Davis said. “In the midst of those people, Dr. King reached over and took our program and wrote, ‘Best wishes, Martin Luther King Jr.’ He handed it back, smiled, entered a vehicle and was driven away.”
Davis said he and his brother stood there frozen.
“For that brief moment in time, Dr. King focused his attention on us,” Davis said. “Dr. King was speaking directly to me and my brother. In my mind’s eye, the message in his gesture of stopping was this: ‘I see you, young men. You are going to be all right. I wish you well.’ That is the message I have carried in my heart for 55 years.”
Davis challenged the audience to take brief moments to uplift others like Dr. King had done for him. Davis also challenged the audience to vote.
“Make sure you’re registered to vote,” Davis said. “People were not beaten half to death fighting for the Voting Rights Act for you to sit here and not vote. Don’t be afraid. Dr. King wasn’t afraid.”
Davis said the assembly was proof the legacy of Dr. King lives on.
“Whenever you are in doubt of the path, of what should we do and how should we do it: Hush. Listen. Dr. King is speaking,” Davis said.
Davis said he joined Alpha Phi Alpha, Dr. King’s fraternity, in response to Dr. King’s death. Davis eventually became general president of the organization and held the position when Congress passed the bill to build the memorial for Dr. King.
Kentucky State University alumnus Senator Gerald A. Neal was presented the Thorobred Award for his outstanding service as a public servant for social change.
Robert Mason, founder of the Common Black College Application, was presented the Spirit of King Award as someone who exemplifies the character and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.