Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration honors St. Louis activist Seay

Annual events on Danforth, medical campuses held in recognition of King's legacy


Norman R. Seay, a key figure in the struggle for desegregation in St. Louis, will receive the 2015 Rosa L. Parks Award at Washington University in St. Louis’ annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, in Graham Chapel.

Seay was a high school student when he helped organize the Committee of Racial Equality, which ultimately became the St. Louis arm of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. In 1963, he helped lead the protest at Jefferson Bank & Trust Co., which refused to hire African-Americans for white-collar positions.

The protest was a success — banks and other institutions started hiring black employees. But the victory came at a cost — Seay was jailed for three months for his role in the protest.

“For more than half a century, Seay has been a leader in the modern civil rights movement,” said Rudolph Clay, chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration committee and head of Library Diversity Initiatives and Outreach Services at Olin Library. “He never stopped serving, working to establish the St. Louis Police Ethical Society and advocating for Martin Luther King’s birthday to be recognized as a national holiday.

“It’s only appropriate to honor him on this day,” Clay said.


The commemoration also will feature keynote speaker Kimberly J. Norwood, JD, professor of law in the School of Law and of African and African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences, and author of the book, “Color Matters: Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America.”

Norwood will challenge the belief that skin color no longer matters in a “postracial America” and discuss colorism — the preference, even among people of color, for lighter skin.

The event also will include remarks from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Provost Holden Thorp, PhD, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Rita Levi-Montalcini Distinguished University Professor, as well as performances from Orchestrating Diversity, an urban youth orchestra, and the Demetrius Johnson Foundation Singers.

The event is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in the Danforth University Center garage.

Stith to speak at School of Medicine event

At the School of Medicine, the Office of Diversity Programs will present its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Lecture at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, in the Eric P. Newman Education Center, 320 S. Euclid Ave. The event is open to the public.


Guest speaker is St. Louis native Charles Stith, director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University and former U.S. ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania. The title of his lecture is “From Selma to Ferguson: On Being Faithful to the Moment.”

Stith served as American ambassador to Tanzania following the August 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. Hundreds of people were killed in the attacks.

Under Stith’s leadership, the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam was stabilized and went on to set a new standard of promoting American trade and investment in Africa among U.S. embassies.