Virginia Tech professor speaks about Martin Luther King Jr.

April 4 is 50th anniversary of King's death

BLACKSBURG, Va. – History was forever changed 50 years ago today, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.

Wednesday, including a Virginia Tech professor who knew King and marched alongside him, millions remembered his life and legacy.

Professor Wornie Reed also leads the Race and Social Policy Research Center. He has been a civil rights advocate all his life, due to the injustice he experienced firsthand.

"It was perfectly legal in 1963 for a company to tell me 'No, I'm not going to hire you.' 'Well, why?' 'It's because you're black,'" said Reed.

His passion for social justice started at a young age, when he first heard King speak.

"I was in Montgomery as a youth when the Montgomery Bus Boycott started, so I was there, and 17. As a youth, I was saying, 'Wait until the world hears this man,'" Reed said.

In order to make his own impact, Reed decided to follow King. He joined him in the March on Washington in 1963 and saw him speak more than 30 times.

He was even scheduled to meet with King to learn more about the cause they were both fighting for, but before that meeting could happen, King was assassinated.

"I went to my apartment and cried, and then the next day I went to Harlem. I was working in New York City, so I went up to Harlem and tried to help quell the riots," Reed said.

Reed attended King's funeral in Atlanta.

He then decided to carry on King's legacy by dedicating his life to social justice, a message he's currently teaching younger generations at Virginia Tech.

"We're worse off today than when he (King) died," Reed said.

Following King's death, Reed said African-Americans went decades without a real movement fighting for justice, but now he sees hope.

"All of a sudden, we have these young people today having an understanding that I didn't expect them to have," he said.

As he teaches future leaders, Reed says he hopes to inspire them to fight for what is right, as King taught him.

"So on today if we get more serious about it, we can commemorate his death and think about what he did and think about what we need to do if we are to do anything about his legacy."

A legacy Reed hopes, even half a century after Dr. King's death, will live on through generations to come.

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