Richmond woman speaks about opening home to MLK

Richmond woman speaks about opening home to MLK
Source: YouTube
Jennie Shaw (Source: NBC12)
Jennie Shaw (Source: NBC12)
Ben Ragsdale (Source: NBC12)
Ben Ragsdale (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Wednesday marks 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Events are taking place nationwide to remember King, but there are many who remember his local impact and the connections King formed in the Richmond area.

Jennie Shaw opened up her home to King back in the 1960s. She and so many pioneers who fought for freedom are taking a moment to pause this week. Many just can't believe it's been five decades.

"When I finished 7th grade, I didn't have another school or grade I could go to," said Shaw. "We couldn't go to school with the white children, and we didn't have a black high school."

Now 97 years old, Shaw admits she never fought the system.

"You see all along I'd be willing to sit in the back of the bus, all along people would be handed a sandwich out of a window instead of being able to go in the store," said Shaw.

She would soon learn of someone who would, and who would have thought that person would show up to her very doorstep.

On Hanes Avenue in Richmond's Northside, King was here for a conference at First African Baptist in 1963. Shaw lived across the street.

"Wyatt T. Walker, his main main, all of them was here. They sat around my table," said Shaw. "Of course, I stayed out of their way, because I didn't know what they was talking about. I'm sure it was very...everything they had done was very important, you see."

So important, it captured the interest of Ben Ragsdale, then a college student at Randolph Macon a white man bold enough to speak against hate.

"You would be shunned. You would be told 'you're crazy.' People would say 'your parents I'm sure are ashamed of you,'" said Ragsdale.

He did it anyway, marching with Dr. King twice - but to this day, he regrets one of their conversations.

"I talked with him briefly at Virginia Union at a rally that he was speaking to, and he asked me if he thought he could come out and speak at Randolph Macon College. I told him, 'I'm afraid Dr. King that won't be possible.' We had been working to integrate that school. I knew how rigid the president was, and I wish now, looking back, that I had said 'Dr. King, let me take that request to the President of Randolph Macon,'" said Ragsdale.

He continued to follow the icon until his death on April 4.

"It was a sad moment," said Shaw.

"What I think about this week, 50 years later, now just how far we've come but how vulnerable we are, how our rights are still at risk," said Ragsdale. "If you see injustice, don't be afraid to step out in front and say something and do something and work with others who feel the same way you do."

You could be opening your door to a force that could one day change the world.

"It's just almost unbelievable what he did, well he did, he gave his life. That's what it amounted to," said Shaw.

Right after news hit of King's assassination, Ragsdale says he went to visit with black leaders in his hometown of Waverly, who like himself, were left devastated.

"We cried together," said Ragsdale.

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