50 years ago tonight, the nation was digesting the dream that Martin Luther King outlined in Washington.
And while it would be natural to assume that all African-Americans backed King's vision, history shows that it not the case.
A Sioux Falls man who grew up here was 21 years old when King delivered his speech.
That man is black...and back then, he thought King was wrong.
The grainy black and white images of Washington in August of 1963 document a turning point in the civil rights movement..."I have a dream today....." Martin Luther King...outlining a vision of equality and peace between blacks and whites.
And in Sioux Falls, a 21 year old black man thought King....couldn't be more wrong. "At that time....I thought he was really dreaming. He was dreaming...I was having a nightmare." Porter Williams grew up in a Sioux Falls that is painful to think about. "The N word was used..you know...it was like...you heard it every day of the week all day long."
A segregated Sioux Falls....areas for whites....and areas for blacks. "When you go downtown to a restaurant in Sioux falls, they didn't serve black people. When you went to hotels, motels in Sioux Falls, you couldn't stay there. when you go to social clubs they had signs up saying we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
It was in this environment that Williams saw and understood the world. A world that made him angry. A world that wasn't peaceful. "I didn't believe in non-violence. I thought you met violence with violence. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
In January of 1961, Martin Luther King came to Sioux Falls and visited a church near 6th and Minnesota that is now gone. A plaque commemorates that visit. Porter Williams could have gone to see King that day, but didn't. King preached peace.....but Porter....wasn't in the mood. "You're just kinda fed up...and you're tired....you're done...you don't want to hear it no more...so you do things that you really haven't thought it through."
And that frustration led Williams away from what King said....and thought. If someone called him the "N" word...Porter responded in a way that hurt just as much. "I punched a lot of people in the head. I did some real violent...I went to jail...I did everything like that."
But with the passage of time, Porter Williams came to a personal realization: that Martin Luther King's speech was the game changer of the civil rights movement. That King was able to tell blacks and whites...that there was a way forward...a way to end more than a century of conflict and strife. "That speech was the turning point of...from slavery into today's society."
I asked Porter to look back at his life and tell me if he would do anything differently. While he regrets the violence he was involved in, he tells me he would probably do everything the same. Except for one thing: he would have gone to see Martin Luther King when he came to Sioux Falls in 1961. "I missed a great opportunity...."
Porter Williams designed a display on African-American history in South Dakota at the Washington Pavilion. More than half-a-century ago, Williams attended a dance there when it was the old Washington High School. At that dance, he danced with two white girls and was escorted out of the school by three teachers who told him never to come back. Williams didn't walk back into that building until he was invited back...by the Pavilion...to design the history display.
Friday, August 22 2014 4:53 PM EDT2014-08-22 20:53:07 GMT
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