By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming was far from the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But residents and businesses here observe the day set aside to honor the movement’s highest-profile leader – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was Gov. Mike Sullivan who signed an executive order in 1989 declaring Jan. 15, 1990, as “Equality Day” in Wyoming.
Liz Byrd’s Legacy
But at the time, the Wyoming Legislature still had not formally recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This was despite President Ronald Reagan having formalized the holiday at the federal level in 1983.
After years of bills to that effect being introduced in the Legislature by Liz Byrd, Wyoming’s first Black lawmaker, a compromise bill was passed in 1990 that Wyoming would observe “Martin Luther King Jr./Equality Day.”
Although the Legislature will not observe Monday by taking a day off from meeting in the 2023 session at the Capitol, the body will observe it Jan. 23 instead.
There are other events around the Cowboy State that honor the man whose model for non-violent civil disobedience ultimately resulted in sweeping changes to the country’s approach to race relations.
Observance Means ‘Everything’
On Monday, a Cheyenne tradition that began in 1982 will celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King.
A march from the Cheyenne Depot Plaza to the Capitol begins at noon, followed by a short program.
Benjamin Watson, who participated in the march three years ago, said the event and the day means “everything.”
“(It’s) the dream of all of us coming together, particularly at a time, again, when a nation is so divided,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
‘More Together Than We Are Divided’
There are those who have participated in Wyoming’s march who hold out hope for a brighter future.
“Seeing everyone come together in such a large crowd, I do believe that we are more together than we are divided, in spite of what other people may want us to believe,” said Lakesha McBow-Kenner.
King was assassinated April 4, 1968, following years of activism promoting the rights of Black people. He was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as other federal legislation.
The national holiday, as well as other events in honor of Dr. King around the United States near his birthday each year reflect an effort to continue his dream, along.
Rita Watson, who organized the Cheyenne march in 2020, said the effort has “moved,” but not far enough.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “And we can’t stop until it’s done.”