Pine Belt civil rights leader remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Pine Belt civil rights leader remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg civil rights activist spent Monday remembering her experience hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the March on Washington in 1963.

Raelawni Branch, best known for her leading role in integrating the University of Southern Mississippi, said she’s the only living Hattiesburg resident to attend Dr. King’s March on Washington.

She still vividly remembers getting the news that he was shot and killed.

“'Ms. Branch, have you heard the news about Dr. King?' And I said, ‘What news?’ And he said, ‘He’s been shot in Memphis and killed,’” recalled Branch.

The shocking news immediately changed the type of day Branch thought she’d have.

“I stopped in my tracks and I thought and ‘I’m going to go to Chapel? No, I’m not going,’ and most of the classmates didn’t go either.”

She was a supporter of Dr. King’s ambitions to change a nation plagued by racism.

Excited and on her way to hear his famous ‘I have A Dream Speech,’ Branch recalled her own experience with racism at a rural Alabama gas station.

“We stopped at a service station and tried to use the restroom. They called them wash rooms then and it as Cullman, Alabama. I shall never forget,” Branch said.

They were met with hostility.

“He looks and he says ‘Where ya’ll going?’ And the driver said ‘We’re headed to Washington and we have people who need to use the restrooms.'”

After stating their request, the man was quick to deny them.

“He said, ‘We got one black, one colored man in Cullman and we ain’t building no out house for him.’ We had to go down the road and stop and go in the woods,” Branch said.

Branch said she believes if Dr. King were still alive, in some ways he’d be pleased.

“He would be totally surprised, we would be in this nice building and he’d be totally surprised we could go in that cafeteria and eat,” said Branch.

In others ways, she believes he’d be disappointed if he were alive today.

“'Why are we still having the problems we have?' I think he would ask that question. ‘Why are we still where we are? What do we have to do?’” Branched said.

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