PLATTSBURGH — For fourth-graders who are nervous about the first day of school, the butterflies usually come from wondering if the teacher will give a lot of homework or if they will have recess with their friends.
As Sanford Coakley walked into King George Elementary School in King George, Va., in 1962, the nerves were for a different reason.
He was one of the first five black students to be integrated into the school, a scene that was replaying across the South at the time.
It’s that part of his history and the nation’s history that Coakley will recall Monday when he speaks at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, sponsored by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission at the Blessed John XXII College Community Newman Center in Plattsburgh.
‘TO GIVE BACK’
While he admits he isn’t one for public speaking, Coakley will deliver the address because he said his history reminds generations of the road it took to get to the level of equality society now has.
This is also his way to give back for how that road was paved for him.
“I didn’t know as a fourth-grader how it would affect my future, but when I look back on it, it was probably one of the best things for me as an individual, being a part of history,” Coakley said.
“I never imagined giving a speech about (it) — Dr. Martin Luther King gave me the opportunity, and I lived it.”
Coakley grew up in King George — just outside of Fredericksburg Va. — at the height of King’s work.
As a 9-year-old at King George Elementary, he didn’t realize the magnitude of the his role. For him, his it was different than the famed students who were enrolled in a Little Rock, Ark., school in 1954. He said the first week of class was made to be comfortable for him and that his teachers knew how to continue teaching with a new student in the class.