Civil rights leader looks back on MLK at observance event at Overture Center

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- The community is remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Monday evening as hundreds filled the Overture Center for the 35th annual Madison & Dane County King Holiday Observance.

Joyce Ladner at the Overture Center's MLK observance day event on Monday (Source: WMTV)

This year, the keynote speaker was on the same stage as Dr. King during his famous “I have a Dream” speech.

Joyce Ladner was involved in the civil rights movement in Mississippi and helped organize the March on Washington back in the 1960’s.

Ladner spoke about her fight against justice since her days as a teenager. She says growing up in the 1940’s as a black woman in Mississippi, she did not have many rights.

Ladner says she is grateful for how far we’ve come, but we still have a long way to go.

“We had no rights. I tried to register to vote three times when I was in college. Each time the county registrar failed me on the literacy test," Ladner tells NBC15 News.

“If you have the money to do so, you can buy a decent house in previously less segregated communities. You can vote, run for office, hold office. Just a tremendous amount of opportunities that didn’t exist back then,” she says.

She explained the civil rights era was not as long ago as people think, and some of the battles she faced back then still linger.

“His death symbolized my end of innocence and the end of the non-violent era, where I once had the hope of a young child growing up with a great deal of optimism about the future. I no longer had that," Ladner says.