By W. Wayne MarlowJanuary 19, 2016
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- A woman who fought on the front lines of the civil rights movement shared her experiences with audience members during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance on Jan. 19 at Heritage Hall on Rock Island Arsenal. The First Army Equal Opportunity Office hosted the observance.
During her remarks, Patti Miller talked about her memories of King, her work with him, and his legacy. While attending Drake University in 1964, Miller traveled to Mississippi to participate in the Freedom Summer for Voting Rights.
"I was 21 and I saw a brochure and I said, 'This is something I can do something about.' Along with 700 other college students, I went to Mississippi, which was the most deeply segregated state and the most impossible to bring about any change," Miller said. "It was a very frightful place to live if you were an African-American, and a very frightful place to go if you were a civil rights worker."
On her third day there, the bodies of three murdered civil rights workers were discovered. Undaunted, Miller and her fellow civil rights campaigners continued to fight, and were rewarded later that year when the Civil Rights Acts was signed into law. The next year, Miller participated in one of the Selma to Montgomery marches.
After graduating, Miller organized students to support fair housing practices while working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Chicago. In this position, Miller worked closely with King.
"Housing in Chicago was extremely segregated," Miller recalled. "So Dr. King and Coretta moved into one of the slum apartments. One of my most treasured memories is when we had a Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff meeting in one of these apartments. He was trying to get some rest, but we could not come to a conclusion, so out comes Dr. King in his robe and slippers and took his time to join in the conversation and that's how involved he was in all the projects."
First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, praised Miller for her civil rights work and the role model she is for others.
"That was a powerful message from someone who has walked in the shadow of a giant," Tucker told Miller "This is not the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony that we have attended but this is the one we're going to remember for a long time. You went to the sound of the guns and that sets a great example for all of us."