Robeson third-graders' MLK mural infuses sad moment with hopeful messages

Robeson third-graders' MLK mural infuses sad moment with hopeful messages

When third-graders at Robeson Elementary School decided to memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated April 4, 1968, they thought big, with a 60-panel mural in stark black and white.

"The students are so proud of themselves because the mural shows how they all came together to research and create a piece that shows such a brief moment in history that changed the lives of so many people. It highlights the impact Martin Luther King Jr. has on all generations," teacher NICHOLLE METZGER told staff writer Paul Wood.

Here's more about the award-winning effort:

The project

A mural that shows civil-rights martyr Dr. Martin Luther King standing on a balcony in front of his motel room moments before a sniper shot and killed him on April 4, 1968.

The mural

Sixty canvases put together to depict Dr. King in black and white, surrounded by words of peace and love.

The artists

Third-graders at Robeson Elementary School in Champaign.

The teachers

Randy Bost, Jessica Hoskins and Nicholle Metzger.

The award

Top third-grade project for third-graders at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Community Celebration, held in January at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Why King?

Student Cooper Eeten: "We did it because Dr. King helped many people to get through tough times. We celebrated Black History Month and his birthday by doing this project."

Student Alexa Lake: "He didn't think it was fair that whites got better treatment than black people and he wanted to make it equal — so kids could play together and not be so far apart."

How do we keep King's memory alive?

Student Isaac Nigussie: "It was an inspiration to do this on his birthday, but we should remember him every single day because he was a great man."

A challenging project

It took four to six weeks to make the mural and its 60 elements.

King in black and white

Alexa: "Things were mostly black and white back then, even TV. But he changed racism so now we can all be together."

A learning experience

Bost said a lot of the pupils didn't really know who King was. They did research and it shows in the mural.

Words that heal

Hoskins notes the ideas promoted on the mural: freedom, acceptance, tolerance, togetherness, faith and kindness, among others.

An eternal dream

Metzger thought it was important to explain who King was, and that his work lives on.

History preserved at the Lorraine Motel

You can see the site of King's assassination as it looked during that fateful day in April 1968, down to the preserved balcony and Martin Luther King Jr.'s motel room, complete with one unmade bed and an ashtray for the smokers in his group.

There's a replica model room to visit, and vintage cars in front of his room.

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., is a sobering experience that includes a city bus driver ordering you to sit in the back. The Lorraine was considered safe for African-Americans, as were those shown in the film "The Green Book," said Faith Morris of the museum.

"2018 was a big year for the museum, the 50th anniversary of the assassination. In the last year, America is still feeling the effects of such a momentous event," she said.

The museum saw major changes earlier in this decade; the renovation was its first since opening in 1991. It added more than 40 new films, oral histories and interactive media to its large collection of artifacts and exhibits.

A 7,000-pound bronze signature statue, "Movement to Overcome," is in front of the grand staircase in the new lobby to mark the struggles of previous generations.

The anniversary was a major event in places besides Memphis; "the moment happened here, but there were quite a few places across the country and internationally that marked the event," Morris said.

"The museum is doing very well," she said. "It was time for there to be more technology, more immersive exhibits. So many young people come through. It makes history come alive."

The bus experience, which disturbed this reporter when the driver issued his order, was significant in King's life, Morris said. His home church was in Montgomery, Ala., where a boycott of the bus system proved to be a powerful demonstration of civil disobedience.

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