Elkins man recalls Dr. King’s impact

ELKINS – For Melvin Marks, this is an important time of year.

Marks does a great deal of work with the Riverside School and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Elkins, something that he has helped coordinate and sponsor since the first event in 1987.

In preparation for Sunday’s celebration, Marks sat down with The Inter-Mountain to discuss how his home of Randolph County – Marks made a point to emphasize that he was born and raised in Elkins – was affected by the civil rights movement.

Marks said that while West Virginia and Randolph County were segregated while he was growing up, he and his peers had very few issues growing up in the area.

“We had different schools and some things were different, like the YMCA not being open to us at the time,” Marks explained. “But the changes were gradual.”

In 1951, Marks graduated from Riverside School, the only African-American high school in Randolph County and one that has a rich history in the community. Marks said that Riverside “prepared him for the real world” and that he benefited from the school’s small class size and one-on-one attention. Marks went on to study at Howard University and Indiana University.

Marks said the relationships between the white and African-American citizens while he was growing up were generally “pretty good.”

“Our schools were separate but as soon as it let out, we all met at the playground,” said Marks. “We were swimming and fishing together. There’d be a few knuckleheads stirring up trouble, but overall everyone got along just fine.”

According to Marks, the small-town aspect of Elkins helped keep everyone civil.

“We didn’t have the issues of some of the big cities,” he said. “We all knew each other well.”

Marks said that one of the biggest reasons we still celebrate King and his legacy is because he represented something universal.

“These struggles are still going on,” said Marks. “I think the lesson is ‘lest we forget.’ It serve as a reminder that the world has not always been this way. ‘Lest I forget’ if I start judging or thinking negatively about someone.

“Civil rights aren’t minority issues; they are people issues from all walks of life.

“Martin Luther King had conviction,” Marks said. “We take this day to recognize the struggles that he faced and what he was fighting for. It is a reminder of what we have now and that it didn’t come automatically.”

Contact Chad Clem by email at cclem@theintermountain.com.