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'It Was Not Only His Dream': Wichita Minister Reflects On Lasting Legacy Of MLK'S Words

Carla Eckels
Rev. C. Richard Kirkendoll

Many clergy have been influenced by the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. C. Richard Kirkendoll, president of the Wichita Greater Ministerial League and a Baptist minister, says King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has resonated with him for decades. Ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, KMUW’s Carla Eckels spoke with Kirkendoll about the civil rights icon and the power of his words.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Carla Eckels: What are some of your earliest memories of Dr. King?

Rev. C. Richard Kirkendoll: Wow. I was coming home from school. I was coming home to watch my favorite show, "Major Astro," and when I got there the family was gathered around the TV and initially as a kid, I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to watch my favorite show, but I looked, and I could see their tears. My mother and father, they were crying, they were showing Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, "I Have a Dream."

And my mother explained to me that he was slain, and it was because of hatred, and she shared some things with me that I was unaware of as a kid because as a mother and father they protected us from the hatred of the world as much as they could, but it was that moment she explained that to us. So that was my first remembrance of Dr. King.

And you are talking about on April 4, 1968, when he was killed in Memphis. How did that make you feel as a child?

It woke up a lot of things in me because as I said, we were sheltered. It made me realize that the world was full of hatred. Also, I went to an integrated school, Waco Elementary School, and I have to tell you, I had a teacher there by the name of Mrs. Ellen who took me — because I was the only Black in my class — pulled me aside and said there’s going to be a lot going on in our nation, a lot of people that’s going to be talking bad about each other. (She) explained it to me in a child’s, where I might understand it ... She said there is a lot of hate in the world and she wanted to help protect me from that and that I shouldn’t have to worry about that coming to school and so it was just really, really opening up to me.

Unlike down south, I was in an integrated school with Black, white and Hispanic (students), and we didn't see a lot of that initially but after King's assassination, I was well aware of that and very careful, very careful, of the way I carried myself as well. I listened to that "I Have a Dream" speech so many times I could almost recite it by heart. It’s full of such information and so rich. Stirs up feelings in you.

It was not only his dream; it was a dream, but it was given to him by God because he saw the world as one and that we should all have equal rights to everything that we’re doing. And I think also ... maybe we could still learn something from Dr. King and that’s nonviolence ... that we don’t try to harm each other or hurt each other or belittle each other. He talked about love.

How do you think Dr. King would respond to all the civil unrest that we are currently seeing here in America?

I think he wouldn’t be surprised; I think he’d be a little disappointed that we made some headway, but Carla, you and I both know we have a long way to go. 2020 was an example of the racial tension and divide that we have in our country. Then, I believe January the 6th showed us the disparity of the way one race gets treated versus another race. You and I both know if it was Black people or Muslims or Hispanic, the outcome of that would have been a lot different, I believe that. I believe that.

I think (King) would probably say we have a long way to go, but he would encourage us to not talk at each other but to talk to each other and come together to get an understanding.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.