Delaware State University dedicated its new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center, Wellness Center and pool facility Feb. 25 with a friend and confidant of King’s giving the keynote speech.


Delaware State University dedicated its new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center, Wellness Center and pool facility Feb. 25 with a friend and confidant of King’s giving the keynote speech.
Civil rights activist Walter E. Fauntroy, 77, served under King as director of the Washington bureau of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and later as a District of Columbia congressman for 19 years.

But Fauntroy’s address was more of a sermon than a keynote speech. The recently retired minister had the crowd of more than 400 at the ceremony sometimes laughing, sometimes somberly quiet and sometimes murmuring in agreement with him throughout his almost 50-minute speech.

In King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Fauntroy said the civil rights pioneer envisioned every American having the same rights and freedoms, regardless of skin color. One of those was the right to an education, which was key to gaining almost anything else.

Fauntroy also touched on politics, saying he believed that people throughout the world now look up to America because of President Barack Obama, a black man who he said has helped restore dignity to the nation.

Asked afterward what King would think of the new student center dedicated in his name, Fauntroy was direct: “I think that Martin’s reaction would be the same as his reaction would have been to Obama’s election. ‘I told you so!’”

“He would have a sense of pride and would encourage these students and faculty to go out and redeem the soul of America,” Fauntroy added.

The recently completed $23.4 million King student center replaces a facility built in 1967 that also was named after King. Part of the ceremony included the opening of a time capsule from the cornerstone of the old King center.

Newly installed DSU President Dr. Harry Lee Williams said he thought King’s reaction to the building named in his honor would be one word — “Wow!”

But King also would have other thoughts on the matter, the president said.

“I think he’d say to look back at where we were, then to look and see where we are and then see where we are headed, and he’d feel positive and energized,” Williams said. King also would say there is more to be accomplished, Williams added.

Another speaker agreed.

That was Leroy Tate, president of the school’s Student Government Association in 1968, whose push at the time to name the student center after the recently assassinated King and to establish new rights for the school’s students caused nationwide controversy. Students under Tate’s leadership disrupted that year’s graduation ceremonies and effectively closed down the school for weeks.

Seeing the school today, King would be proud, Tate said.

“I think he would be amazed that so many things have grown out of the work that he and others did,” Tate said. “I think he’d know we have so much more work to do in terms of housing and health care and poverty. Those issues are still with us.

“He would tell us, ‘Don’t rest on your laurels,’” he said.

In his address, Williams noted the new student center and fitness centers would be instrumental to the success of future DSU students.

Together the center was one of seven such facilities nationwide to be recognized by the National Intramural-Recreation Sports Association with its 2010 Outstanding Sports Facility Award.

Email Jeff Brown at jeff.brown@doverpost.com.