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Dozens of Chicagoans trek to Memphis for King anniversary

On Monday, Ashaley Hassel arrives at Operation Push headquarters in preparation for a bus ride down to Memphis for Wednesday's 50th anniversary commemoration of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Two days before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., about three dozen people gathered at the headquarters of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Kenwood and boarded a bus to Memphis — the city where the civil rights icon was slain.

The 8-hour drive down interstates 57 and 55, arranged by the South Side nonprofit founded by King’s friend, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was a collection of those who witnessed King’s work, life and death and those who were not even born yet.

People board a bus outside Operation Push heading down to Memphis for Wednesday's 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luthe

At 8:20 p.m. Monday, the bus pulled away from Rainbow/PUSH.

“It’s history,” said Roosevelt University student and employee Adrian Edwards. “It’s making history. It’s celebrating history. It’s reliving history.”

Edwards said she anticipated being overcome when she sees the place where King was killed.

“I’m expecting to be really overwhelmed by emotion, especially when we tour the motel,” she said. “I’m wanting to be connected, to feel the connection even stronger.”

University of Chicago law student Subria Whitaker and her mother, Elizabeth, board a bus outside Operation Push headquarters heading down to Memphis. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
University of Chicago law student Subria Whitaker and her mother, Elizabeth, board a bus outside Operation Push headquarters heading down to Memphis. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, which now sits in the middle of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Ashaley Hassel, who studies African history at Roosevelt, saw the trip to Memphis as a chance to become closer to her own history and culture, as well as an opportunity to understand King’s own thought process more clearly.

“I want to see what it was at his time,” she said. “What did he see? What did he feel at that time? I want to just see, like, where did he stand? Where was he at that moment? What was he thinking before he actually passed away?”

Willie Dukes of Calumet City boards a bus outside Operation Push headquarters heading down to Memphis. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Willie Dukes of Calumet City boards a bus outside Operation Push headquarters heading down to Memphis. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Also on the trip was Royal Mickey Warren, who was drafted into the Army a month before King — who opposed the Vietnam War — was assassinated.

“The same issues that were relevant then [are] still relevant now,” Warren said. “It’s important that we realize the dream, not just talk about the dream, but we do things to make sure that your dream becomes a reality.”

WGN Radio reporter Dometi Pongo interviews Royal Mickey Warren who is heading down to Memphis by bus. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
WGN Radio reporter Dometi Pongo interviews Royal Mickey Warren who is heading down to Memphis by bus. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Warren was a part of the Chicago Freedom Movement, which was led by King and fought for open housing and education equity.

“We have to be about educating,” he said. “I don’t want everything I’ve done and experienced to die with me. I want to pay it forward so that becomes relevant for me.”

The trek to Memphis was not a spur of the moment decision for Warren.

“This isn’t just a last minute thing for me. It’s a lifelong commitment,” he said.