By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University’s commitment to stand up for civil rights continued with a silent march honoring the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and dedication of a marker on campus Jan. 17. The university observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day on a Tuesday, on purpose, to avoid interfering with community celebrations and to allow more students returning from winter break to be on campus.
Tim Phillips, associate vice president and dean of students, said the march was a time to “reflect on those who came before us….This is about community and reflection. As you walk, listen to the sounds around you. Think about the journey of civil rights. Look around you.”
More than 100 students, faculty, staff and community members joined Phillips on the silent march that began at Cosgrove Hall. They stopped along the way at a flag pole off of Locust Street. Ryan Saddler, the university’s director of diversity and director of student disability services, gathered the crowd around the pole. He spoke about St. Ambrose’s role in civil rights. He gave examples of priests who participated in marches across the nation, fighting for the rights of others, and who housed the first meeting of the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council in Davis Hall on campus. Those efforts led to creation of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. “St. Ambrose has had an active role. Think of all the sacrifices that were made on this campus and abroad when we walk past Davis Hall and to the chapel,” Saddler said.
Outside Christ the King Chapel, Father Chuck Adam, campus chaplain, asked the group to remember the sacrifices others have made. He blessed a civil rights marker outside the chapel that addresses St. Ambrose’s role in advocating for the rights of others.
Inside the chapel’s gathering space, the group sang “Amazing Grace.” “If that doesn’t move you, I don’t know what does,” Saddler said.
Paul Koch, vice president for academic and student affairs, spoke on behalf of St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ. “Dignity is a core value that our organization takes seriously. We must fight for the rights of all and recommit ourselves to justice, for there is not justice without peace,” Koch said.
After a video was shown from a past civil rights march that St. Ambrose hosted, three community members spoke on civil rights. Judy Morrell, former director of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission said, “The work done here in Davenport is amazing.” She praised the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet and other priests who fought for the rights of others. She noted that the civil rights commission and help from priests such as Msgr. Mottet led to more just housing and employment laws in Davenport. “Thanks to St. Ambrose and the civil rights commission, we have done and can do a lot together.”
Art Pitz, adjunct professor at St. Ambrose and curator of the Davenport Civil Rights exhibit which was unveiled in 2010 at the Putnam Museum, said: “We told the story of Davenport social rights.”
Standing at the flag pole, he said it reminded him of a time when Locust Street in Davenport was a symbol of great divide. “It was equivalent to the Mason-Dixon line. St. Ambrose was seen as ‘that red college on the hill’ because of its lead in the civil rights movement.”
Pitz pointed out that the Quad-City area today is quite diverse, ethnically and faith-wise. “We have just about every denomination here.” But he pointed out that the work is not done. “We can move forward and continue make change.”
Vera Kelly, president of the Davenport Metrocom NAACP, noted she grew up in the deep South. “I have seen change. I went to college when there was no integration. But I was taught to love and that is what I taught my children – to love.” People need to stick together to work for change, she added.
Bishop Jimmy Horton, pastor of Gospel Mission Temple in Davenport, said, “We are here in faith, mission and passion to carry on the great legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” He noted that the work of civil rights is a work in progress. “All lives matter,” he said during a prayer. “Bless us to go forth and fight this great battle of faith and to work for peace and justice.” He asked the group to sing “We Will Love Each Other” to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.”
Saddler said turnout for the event was the best ever. “It was remarkable.” St. Ambrose University senior Deatrice Lewellyan said she loved the event. “It embraced our diversity. It told of our history. It talked about how lives were changed.” Sophomore Cantrell Davis said he learned about the event through the residence life program. “Last year I didn’t know about this. I was so excited to hear about this year’s event and tried to bring others to the walk. This was a big event for St. Ambrose University.”