DOVER, Fla. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a huge impact on moving the Civil Rights Movement forward with his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Monument, but in the years prior to that iconic event, he traveled the country delivering speeches in some of the nation’s most segregated and oppressive places. One of those places was right here in Tampa in 1961.
Two Tampa Bay area residents were there more than 60 years ago to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They sat down with in-depth reporter Anthony Hill to tell him about the experience “In Their Own Words.”
Doris Ross Reddick is 94 years old. Both she and her son, Kenny Perry, attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech when he came to Tampa in 1961. They talked about what they experienced that day and what life was like back then for African Americans living in Tampa. Here they are “In Their Own Words.”
“Black people lived on one side of Tampa and white people lived on the other side," said Reddick
“Black people were not being treated right. They were being discriminated against and it was segregation throughout the south and he was going around trying to encourage Black folk that we could make a difference, but we had to organize and we had to vote," Perry said. “My mother brought me, as well as my younger brother and sister.”
“But they all were young," Reddick said.
“And we were very excited that we were going. We all had to leave and go outside and stand on the grass and wait until the dogs and the authorities checked all the rooms to make sure that there was not a bomb," Perry said.
“Some people left, but we didn’t leave. We stayed," Reddick said.
“Understanding that I was a youngster. At 12 years old, I was kind of apprehensive about going back in.. but I did," Perry said.
“The energy was high. Very high," Reddick said.
“And it was very uplifting and enlightening as all of his speeches are. A very good voice for public speaking and preaching," Perry said. “You knew this thing was real. A lot of people died during the Civil Rights Movement and you knew, he did, as well as a lot of the other people who participated knew that they may get killed.”
“It was a sad affair. It was a very sad affair when they found out he had been killed," Reddick said.
“It was a terrible thing and everybody all over, Black people in particular, and there were many Whites that were very upset about what transpired as it relates to his killing," said Perry.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee in 1968. However, his words and his presence touched many people right here in Tampa Bay.