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Tribute to students who desegregated ETSU announced at MLK Prayer Breakfast

Amanda Marsh • Jan 14, 2012 at 10:22 PM

On his last day as president of East Tennessee State University, Dr. Paul E. Stanton looked back on the dreams he’s encountered along the way as well as one that is still coming true.

During his keynote speech at the 10th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Dr. Stanton announced plans to install a historical marker and fountain on the ETSU campus in honor of the five students who desegregated the university in 1956 and 1958. The memorials will be placed at Borchuck Plaza, in front of the Sherrod Library.

“We decided that we wanted to honor those five men and women and stand as an example to all the students that we should dare to dream and make those dreams come true,” Stanton said.

While standing above a photo of the historical marker and a depiction of the fountain design, Dr. Stanton spoke of a “journey of dreams” that surely led him to that very podium. One of those influential meetings included time spent with William Nunley, an African American man who helped Stanton clean up job sites where his father built homes.

As a young man, Stanton said he questioned why William had to sit in the back of the truck each day as they drove him home. His father told him “that’s the way it is in the South these days.”

Stanton said he later discovered that along with a dream for white and black children to be able to attend school together, William also dreamt about riding up front. So one day, when Stanton’s father sent them out to buy supplies, he let William ride in the passenger’s seat.

“We got in that truck. He was happy. I was happy and we drove for an hour and a half trying to get to College Park Supply,” Stanton said with a chuckle.

William rode in the cab with Stanton and his father from that point on, and he recalled the memory fondly, as he did when speaking about another special meeting several years later, when he talked with Hamilton Holmes, one of the students who integrated the University of Georgia in 1961.

After buying a can of beenie-weenies and a Coke on the University of Georgia campus one morning in 1963, Stanton said he saw Hamilton and recognized him from the heavy media attention he had received. The two struck up a conversation and several years later, their paths crossed again when they practiced surgery together in Atlanta. As they became friends, Stanton discovered that Hamilton dreamt of seeing his two children attend the University of Georgia without enduring the same hardships that he did. This dream later came true.

Stanton also mentioned meeting homerun champion Hank Aaron and Martin “Marty” Luther King III, the eldest son of the late Dr. King.

“I said, ‘Marty, what do you dream about?’ and he said, ‘That I can be part of my dad’s legacy. And I want to make sure that what he dreamed about, I helped become a success,’ ” Stanton said.

In tribute to the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Stanton read several passages from King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Afterward, many of those who attended the breakfast, such as Rev. C. Danny Johnson, said they were moved by the event, especially the announcement of the upcoming memorials at ETSU.

“To honor the reality of struggle with something like this fountain I think is a wonderful, wonderful thing,” said Johnson, pastor at Thankful Baptist Church. “... But there are still more things to do because he says ‘dare to dream’ so it’s not just a matter of growing out of the past, but it’s also re-envisioning the future.”

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