ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - When Cal Williams attended the March on Washington in 1963, the crowd was so large he was too far away to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s now iconic, "I have a dream" speech.
Before the young activist moved from Monroe, Louisiana, to Anchorage two years later, he would hear Dr. King speak two other times and carve out his own role in the movement with the Congress of Racial Equality.
"The calmness and peacefulness and justice - I think those are the principles that I got from Dr. King," he said, "but that was later in life really, because at his time we were both marching and protesting.
"He was with Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and we felt that he and that group were not a militant and as progressive and as agitating as we were," Williams said. "So I really didn't really fully understand the spirituality of Dr. King until after he was gone."
Williams' move from the Deep South to Alaska came after his classmates first made the move to attend Alaska Methodist University, now known as Alaska Pacific University. They told him of what they felt were better economic and social opportunities discovered in Alaska.
"At the same time, they were having some issues here with racial acceptance, and cases kept coming forward out on the base where they were having difficulties between the black and the white soldiers," Williams said. "And black soldiers were complaining about the haircut regulations that didn't really fit African American hair.
"There was this social discourse," he said. "Blacks were indeed economically engaged and doing far better economically here than they were in Louisiana. That I did find."
In both the height of the Civil Right movement and in the decades since, Williams says he's seen progress that he never expected to see.
"When I was 14-years-old, a 14-year-old kid 70 miles from me, Emmett Till, was killed for supposedly whistling or speaking inappropriately to a white woman," he said. "And Dr. King's dream that one day black and white would all march together, well no we've gotten past that socially. We have intermarriages and children of mixed races, etc."
Yet even in 2020, Williams sees areas where Dr. King's dream has not been completely fulfilled.
"There is much, much, much work to do," Williams said. "We are living in the most diverse place in the world. We have, they say, some 100 languages spoken in our schools. But that's not reflected in the makeup of our school boards, assembly, jobs in the administration of the state and or the city, contracts that are being let. Inclusion of all those diverse people in every walk of our economic life is not occurring. We speak to each other respectfully, but we have to beyond that."
Williams says that the bridging the gap from the current status quo to full equality begins with being comfortable with oneself, and instead of being envious of others, seeing the best in other people and helping them reach their greatest potential.
"I would like to see that our legacy is indeed as the old song says: We shall overcome," Williams said." And that to me is the hope, was the hope of slaves. Was the hope of poor people in Appalachia. People in the gas chambers because because of the Holocaust. All have hoped that things will be better for the next generation, and that is my hope as well."
Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.