Mr. Beau Dickenson, Coordinator of History and Social Science Education for Rockingham County Public Schools, coordinated the event along with Eric Wimer (7th grade Social Studies teacher at Elkton Middle School) and provided the following introduction to students, staff, and guests:
"There’s a street in downtown Harrisonburg that begins at the former city high school - it runs over the Talmage R. Cooley bridge, up the hill past James Madison University and the old Hospital, it then turns east and crosses Reservoir Street on its way to Route 33. That road was formerly known as “Cantrell Avenue,” but one year ago this coming Monday, it was symbolically rededicated as “Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.” Our guest this afternoon played a pivotal role in helping make that change possible.
Mr. Fred Gibson was born in Selma, Alabama in 1929. Bigotry, violence, and personal tragedy led him to run away from home and escape his upbringing in the Jim Crow South. Self-determination, the kindness of strangers, and the grace of God saved this young man from a life on the streets. Of all places, this troubled teen ended up in Seminary school, training for a life as a minister. In 1951, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania. There, he met a fellow Southerner from Atlanta, Georgia that was similarly destined for a life as a Christian activist. That classmate was Martin Luther King, Jr. These two young men not only became friends, but they also became partners in the struggle for civil rights as well. They both graduated and their careers unfortunately led them to distant churches in different regions of the country.
Twelve years had passed and Mr. Gibson had become the pastor of the Kenilworth Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. He had since joined the NAACP and was serving on a committee that was planning an upcoming civil rights demonstration in the nation’s capital. Mr. Gibson personally organized over six trains full of demonstrators that travelled south in order to take part in what became known as the “March on Washington.” It must have been an especially powerful moment for Mr. Gibson when his former classmate and friend rose to the lectern in order to deliver “I Have a Dream” speech.
We gather today in order to recognize the enduring importance of that Dream. We are certainly filled with hope when we reflect upon the incredible progress that has been made since that hot, August day of 1963. I now invite you to listen to a man that has not only witnessed that change in his lifetime, but he’s an individual that helped forge it as well. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Fred Gibson."
Following is the Daily News-Record account of Reverend Gibson's message to the attendees that day.