Martin Luther King Jr. Day may be on Jan. 21, but several activities are going on at the University of Central Missouri in the next week in observance of this day.  L. Douglas Wilder, former governor of Virginia and the first elected African American governor in the United States, will be the keynote speaker for the University of Central Missouri’s annual Freedom Scholarship dinner,  planned for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The event is the highlight of the university’s 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

Tickets for the dinner will be available by  contacting the UCM Diversity Office at 660-543-4156, or the Greater Warrensburg Area Chamber of Commerce at 100 S. Holden. Tickets may be purchased at the Bronze Level for $50, Silver Level for $75, or the Gold Level at $100. Table sponsorships also are available.

Proceeds from the event fund the Freedom Scholarships presented annually to high school and UCM students. During the past 15 years, 174 students have received Freedom Scholarships to attend UCM. The 14 recipients of the 2012 Freedom Scholarships will be honored at 2013 event. All currently are enrolled at UCM.

Wilder was first elected to the Virginia State Senate and then was elected lieutenant governor in 1985.  Following his election as governor in 1990, Wilder took office at a time when a shaky national economy left the state a budget crisis not seen since World War II. Faced with a project tax shortfall of $1.4 billion, the governor implemented a successful program of reduced spending. He was a Democratic candidate for president in 1992.

After his term as governor ended in 1994, Wilder played a major role in the development of The National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va. He also championed the creation of the post of elected mayor of Richmond, Va., to which he was elected in 2004.

Wilder’s willingness to break with the leadership of his own party made him one of the  five most influential members of the Virginia State Senate. He chaired the powerful Privileges and Elections Committee, which oversees state appointments and voting legislation. He also advocated fair housing legislation, labor union  rights for public employees, and more minority hiring in private businesses.

Wilder graduated from Virginia Union University in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.  He then served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War, receiving the Bronze Star  for heroism in ground combat for rescuing wounded GIs and capturing enemy troops.  Unable to enroll in law school in Virginia because state law barred enrollment of African Americans in its law schools, he took advantage of the GI Bill and graduated  from the Howard University School of Law, returning to Richmond to private  practice.

Wilder is the recipient of the NAACP Springarn Medal, the Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Medallion of Honor, and a Citation of Honor for Contributions to American Politics.

In addition to the Freedom Scholarship Dinner, 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration events  include:

  • The Student Volunteer Fair from 11 a.m. to 1  p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23 in the Elliott Union atrium
  • The annual MLK Celebration Blood Drive on  Tuesday, Jan. 29, and Wednesday, Jan. 30, in the Elliott Union.

Press Release Courtesy of University of Central Missouri Public Affairs