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50 years later: Memphis professor reflects on experiences from March on Washington

David Acey was inside the Mason Temple in Memphis on April, 1968 for what turned out to Dr. King's emotional and prophetic farewell speech on the eve of his assassination. David Acey was inside the Mason Temple in Memphis on April, 1968 for what turned out to Dr. King's emotional and prophetic farewell speech on the eve of his assassination.
Acey was in the thick of the 250,000 black and white images from August 28, 1963. Acey was in the thick of the 250,000 black and white images from August 28, 1963.

  (WMC-TV) - A Memphis professor is among a handful of people still alive who personally witnessed not one but two of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most famous speeches.

David Acey was inside the Mason Temple in Memphis on April, 1968 for what turned out to Dr. King's emotional and prophetic farewell speech on the eve of his assassination.

As America celebrates the golden anniversary of King's monumental "I Have A Dream" speech, Acey can say he heard it all in person at the 1963 March on Washington.

"Just being there on that occasion. It was inspirational. It was motivational. And given the timbre of the times in the 60s, I grew up in a segregated neighborhood. I been discriminated against. I'd been to a segregated school. And I understood the importance of gaining freedom," said Acey.

Acey was in the thick of the 250,000 black and white images from August 28, 1963. He was then a 25-year-old military policeman in the Army who found himself 40 feet from the podium where Dr. King spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"He was speaking truth to power ... Truth to power. And he was doing it in a way that was the best of the American tradition," said Acey.

Acey is a professor of African-American Rhetoric for 40 years now at the University of Memphis, and he knows much of the speech by heart.

"We will never be satisfied until we have freedom and justice. So, those who are looking for a cooling off period, because we're here and we're right. And he went on in that speech of course to say that he had a dream," said Acey. "You had to listen. And it was motivational. Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to Tennessee and continue the struggle."

Acey did. After an honorable discharge from the Army, he used the GI Bill to register at the segregated Memphis State University.

"We had no football players. No basketball players. No faculty members. No students working in the bookstores ...In the library. No where on campus, no student organization," he said.

Acey became first president of the all new Black Student Association. Using nonviolent civil disobedience and other tactics pioneered by King, Acey and others integrated the university, where he has devoted all his career.

"I was responsible for starting the Black Studies program at the University and now it's a full fledged program," he said.

Acey has done much more – with his wife, Yvonne, he started Africa in April in 1986, the annual celebration of black culture that honors a different African country each year.

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